The three shows today take some investing on the part of the audience. One is a celebrated stage play about world events & diplomacy transitioning to film. The second is a much-loved Mitford novel imaginatively recreated for Television, and the third is an admired series offering us something very different. Happy viewing.
Oslo (HBO Max) – This drops on HBO on May 29, and if you like political films, those that dwell on diplomacy and negotiations with grave, far-reaching consequences, than this one is for you. Set in the early 1990’s, this film adaptation of an original stage play chronicles the secret, back channel negotiations that went on as a prelude to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. The Accord that sought to bring a diplomatic settlement to the Israel-PLO/Palestine conflict. It’s especially timely given the current situation in the Middle East; and how what hope existed back then, is still the same hope we yearn for to this day. It’s essentially a Drama, and to its credit, took home the Tony, the NY Drama Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Awards for Best Play in 2017.
Set in Oslo, Norway, the adaptation stars Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott as the couple Mona Juul and Terje Rød-Larsen, who in real life were the junior diplomat and sociologist who pushed when they were up against a wall, and believed diplomacy could succeed when all others thought it a dead end. JT Rogers, provides the screenplay from his original material, and Bartlett Sher directs. Does it work better as a film? To be honest, could see the tension being felt much more in a live theater setting. Scott and Wilson earnestly animate their characters, and the ones playing the PLO Minister of Finance, and the Jewish University of Haifa professor make strong lasting impressions; but couldn’t help feeling that the subject matter might be too cerebral a topic. At best, it’s for those who watched a film such as The Two Popes, and enjoyed this more subdued form of drama. I loved it, but I know it’s not for everyone.
The Pursuit of Love (BBC) – Based on the best selling 1941 novel of Nancy Mitford, one can immediately feel how much Emily Mortimer, directing, loves the source material. She even takes on one of the characters, the mother of Fanny, our narrator, but knows well enough to let her two lead stars truly shine. Emily Beecham plays Fanny, our guide to this in-between Wars England, and the plight of upper class women who were straitjacketed into socially acceptable norms and roles, and the life of Linda (Lily James), who is the central character. It’s a glorious drama, a hilarious comedy, and a touching tragedy – all rolled into three hour-long episodes.
There’s a neo-Wes Anderson approach to introducing the ‘family’ and it works in providing stylistic invention to the proceedings. And the cast is an ensemble gem! It’s nice to see Lily James finally acting, and not sleepwalking through her role as she did in Rebecca and The Dig. Beecham provides strong support and is spot on as the proverbial voice of reason. Andrew Scott plays Lord Merlin, a neighbor who becomes something of a life guide to Linda and her ‘pursuit of love’. And I’ll reserve special mention for Dominic West as Uncle Matthew, who hates all foreigners and thinks education for women is a waste of time and resources. It’s 1920 England, with all its eccentricities, prejudices, and ‘I’m sticking my head in the ground’ attitude. A wonderful series that should deservedly win awards. It’s on BBC, and aired in early May.
Master of None (Netflix) – Aziz Ansari is a media phenom, graduating from stand-up, to being the star of an intelligent hit comedy series. He wears many hats and for this third season, restricts himself to directing, co-writing with Lena Waithe, and a cameo. The question left hanging is whether this is a wise move. The characters portrayed by Waithe and Naomi Ackie now take center stage for this third season, and if you wanted to watch a mature lesbian relationship get placed under a microscope, and dissected to its bare essence, then this is the five episodes you were waiting for. The feel is very much cinema vérité, and it’s done to the point where every little crack, fissure, and nuance is examined and presented in seeming slow motion.
It’s a brave concept, and Aziz’ directing hand is reminiscent of the one-off black and white episode that was filmed in Italy last season. Poetic, and so different, the episode worked precisely because it was so different and lasted only one episode. Here, spread over five episodes, it makes the maxim of Keep It Real become a glaring fault. I’m certain this season will have its fans, and some will exult it for being so daring and real, but I personally missed the comedy, the satirical edge, the little wink that seemed to emanate from the series. This one is too serious. The fly on the wall treatment is admirable, but here’s a season where the process and execution outshine the flow and actual content.