Highlights from the last month, as chosen by the entertainment enthusiasts at Red Bee.
BEST TV SHOW: I HATE SUZIE
Collaborating again with writer Lucy Prebble (Diary of a Call Girl), Piper mines her own story, playing a former child star turned actress on the verge of a career breakthrough. In the first episode, nude photographs of her are leaked online. The ensuing drama follows her emotional journey from shock to shame, guilt through to acceptance. There's a great one-off appearance from Dexter Fletcher as a disgraced actor snorting coke and a superb turn from Leila Farzad as her friend and agent. But it’s Piper who is mesmerizing, revealing what it is to be a woman, not just a famous one, but one who faces all the challenges and the fallout. From an all-female team, it’s one of the freshest, most thought-provoking series of the moment.
BEST BOOK: SHUGGIE BAIN BY DOUGLAS STUART
A few pages into Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and we are already entranced. Reminiscent of the worlds and work of Alan Sillitoe, Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold, it’s a compelling portrait of starkly-drawn, fierce characters trapped in the bleak, impoverished landscape of late 20th century Glasgow. We can see why it deserves its place on the Booker Prize shortlist.
BEST FILM: ROCKS
Worthy of every single one of its multitude of five-star reviews, Rocks is our film of the year. A heart-rending, uplifting, visceral, vivid portrayal of what it is to be a young girl in London in 2020. The movie was nurtured to life by director Sarah Gavron, writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson and their largely female crew over 18 months of casting, workshopping and shooting with an almost exclusively unprofessional cast of young people. It has an authenticity that bursts out in every beat of dialogue. Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali shine as Rocks and best friend Sumaya, trying to duck and weave from social services after Rocks’ mother leaves home. And special mention must go to an astonishing performance by 7-year-old D’angelou Osei Kissiedu as Rocks’ young brother. Life-affirming art at a point when we all need some life affirming.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
Man meets octopus. Octopus meets man. They fall in love. It’s sadly not nearly as weird or erotic as that but, if you want to escape from the real world to the underworld, this documentary shows the bond one man made with an octopus. It also shows the life of an octopus in close up - how it feeds, how it procreates, how it escapes and fends off predators. It’s beautifully shot, quite mesmerising, strangely emotional and yes, a little weird.
BEST TV DRAMA: DES
For some of us, this started as a slam dunk. An old-school 3-parter, stripped across three consecutive nights on ITV, with most of us eagerly sitting down to watch at 9.00pm the way we always used to. An extraordinary performance from David Tennant, setting aside his trademark “cheeky chappie” act to deliver a disturbing and haunting portrayal of the notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen, with outstanding support from Daniel Mays and Jason Watkins. A production team that captured the monochrome melancholy of a London nick in a way that could have been lifted straight from The Sweeney circa 1974. The latest in a line of superbly-crafted ITV true crime dramas, following White House Farm, Manhunt and A Confession. A BAFTA-winning sure thing. But, but…then came the debate, as happens so often at Red Bee Towers. Are we right to celebrate a drama that risks glorifying the acts of a narcissistic killer who might have loved seeing his nickname Des splashed across ITV’s titles and outdoor campaign? Were we ignoring the murder victims and their families, one of which had criticised “cash grabbing” ITV for capitalising on the gory details of the case? The jury has yet to record a majority verdict on these challenging questions, so let’s just say that Des is a must-watch drama if you haven’t already seen it, if only to make up your own mind.
Stay tuned for more next month