‘Dirty John: Betty’

Dirty John is an anthology series focussing on a different true story each season and where love has gone drastically wrong. Dirty John: Betty is the second season, subtitled The Betty Broderick Story.

Set in the 1980s, the wealthy Brodericks are the toast of San Diego with husband Dan (Christian Slater – The Public, Bobby) the much feared yet hugely successful medical malpractice lawyer. Told over several parallel timelines interwoven around the present-day narrative, however, theirs is a marriage of subtle manipulation and control, subversive behaviour of an arrogant narcissist.

Having supported him financially in the early days of their marriage with a series of menial jobs and rearing their two daughters, housewife Betty believes no limit credit cards and a shop-to-you-drop lifestyle is a just reward. Particularly as there are now two young sons under the age of ten. But Betty (Amanda Peet – Identity Thief, 2012) could not be further from the truth.

Financially reliant, emotionally dependent, divorce proceedings are the last things on Betty’s mind. But with the old boys’ network, the law and the money behind him, Dan plots and plans, maximising his returns, minimising Betty’s gains. And then there’s the future second Mrs Broderick – the young legal secretary, Rachel Keller (In the Shadow of the Moon, TV’s Fargo) – to consider.

As Betty’s life, hopes and dreams crumble around her, we watch her fall apart. Deprived of her kids, living alone in a rat-infested ‘pull down’ second property, she slowly goes to hell and back. Obsessed by Dan, money and the whore, she loses friends, she loses her ability to cope.

Peet is stunning as Betty – but a repetitive narrative can drag. Like those superficial lunch friends in their 1980s Chanel and Versace (the fashions are a hoot), it can all get a little too much, a little boring. How many times can we watch a destructive Betty rampage through her former home or pick at a salad whilst regaling friends of the latest Dan did this…. episode? It’s a real caveat – this melodrama stretched over eight episodes is ostensibly overstretching. But this is Betty’s story, a woman who had her value, her intelligence, her ability as a mother, even her sanity questioned. And the law not only allowed it – it facilitated it.

Rating: 66%

‘Erin Brockovich’

It’s a classic David and Goliath story. Small town Californian lawyers take on the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and its illegal dumping of the highly toxic hexavalent chromium, resulting in the poisoning of local residents.

Fiery unemployed single mother of three, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts – Pretty Woman, Eat Pray Love), cajoles lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney – Tom Jones, The Dresser) into employing her as a legal assistant. A chance investigation leads to one of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history – with Brockovich leading the fight, in spite of her lack of legal training.

Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, The Laundromat) takes this true story and turns it into a joyful, rousing entertainment as Roberts, inappropriate throughout, take on the corporate big boys and shows them what’s what.

Nominated for 5 Oscars in 2001 (including best film, script, director, supporting actor) and won 1 (Julia Roberts).

Rating: 81%

‘Enola Holmes’

Home-schooled Eudoria Holmes-style and teen sister of Sherlock and the pompous Mycroft (Sam Claflin – The Corrupted, The Hunger Games), it’s guaranteed Enola Holmes will not take to a 19th century Finishing School for Young Ladies.

So when Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter – Ocean’s 8, Sweeney Todd) disappears, it’s Enola (Millie Bobby Brown – TV’s Stranger Things) who follows the trail to London. Women’s suffrage and social movement for change are on the agenda as Enola cuts a swathe through petty criminals and conspirators alike. Famed brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill – Man of Steel, Sand Castle), meanwhile, is left for dust.

It’s witty if somewhat vanilla and safe from director Harry Bradbeer (TV’s Fleabag, Prisoners Wives). Adapted from the novel by Nancy Springer, the underlying feminist message is trumpeted loud and clear in the spirited adventure yarn that is Enola Holmes. An ideal family film – with more possibly to come?

A Netflix original.

Rating: 54%

‘The Split’ (Season 1)

Specialising in family law, Defoe is a family business synonymous with old-fashioned, quality representation. Built up over the years by mom (Deborah Findlay), her two eldest daughters, Hannah and Nina, are successful lawyers in their own right. Dad walked out 30 years ago when the youngest daughter, Rose, was just two years old.

But, as high-flying Hannah (a superbly nuanced performance from Nicola Walker) starts a new job, headhunted by Noble & Hale, and Defoe struggling financially, dad is back. And the past, it turns out, is not quite what it seemed.

Created by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Suffragette), The Split is a tight-knit family drama interweaving separate and connected narratives of the three sisters’ personal lives with the long office hours of high profile, costly divorce, pre-nup and child custody battles. As the cases tot up millions in settlement, Hannah is pulled in different directions. Professional loyalty balanced with concerns for the company she helped build: family life of three kids with affable husband, barrister Nathan (Stephen Mangan): the reemergence of a father for the first time in 30 years: a reconnection at Noble & Hale with the sexy and available Christian (Barry Atsmo), an old-flame.

A very English television drama (it’s the BBC at its best) in its realistic depiction of complicated personal relationships, The Split is intricate and engrossing with an outstanding cast and fine, fine script.

Rating: 84%

‘Case 39’

Idealistic social worker Rene Zellweger (Judy, Cold Mountain) becomes more and more personally involved in a child abuse case. But things are not quite what they seem as the parents, each locked away in mental institutions, warn the authorities of what is to come. Innocent, Lillith (Jodelle Ferland – Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Tall Man) is not. Events escalate as colleague Doug (Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born, American Sniper) dies in mysterious circumstances.

Billed as a horror film, director Christian Alvert (Antibodies, Banklady) steers the demon-child narrative into predictable territory. The result is pretty minor but saved by a strong ensemble and a convincing Zellweger.

Rating: 42%

‘Mary, Queen of Scots’

The age old story of the bitter rivalry between Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth that led to the eventual execution of the Queen of Scotland. Theatre director Josie Rourke chooses to portray the story mainly from Mary’s perspective.

Returning to Scotland at the sudden death of her 16 year-old husband, King Francis II of France, a young Mary (Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn, Lady Bird) immediately lays claim to the English throne of the Protestant Elizabeth (Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad, I Tonya). Plots abound in the dour castles of Scotland and courts of England as each of the women choose to act on or ignore the different advice given by courtiers, lords and lovers.

Each feared and fascinated by the other, a complex Elizabeth is relegated to a supporting role in the adaptation of John Guy’s novel as a magisterial Saoirse Ronan dominates proceedings. It’s a turbulent time of betrayal and conspiracy. Yet Mary, Queen of Scots is a more pensive discourse than a full-blooded confrontation, a muted, suprisingly claustrophobic telling that, whilst holding interest, cries out on occasions for a little more action.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2019 (costume & make-up).

Rating: 59%

‘Room at the Top’

A terrible northern accent from Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate, Darling) mars a gritty tale of naked ambition.

Ambitious young accountant Harvey arrives at an industrial northern English city from a dirt poor background post World War II. He soon finds himself planning to marry a wealthy factory owner’s daughter (Heather Sears – Sons & Lovers, The Siege of Pinchgut). But in joining the local amateur dramatics society to further his cause, Joe Lampton meets Simone Signoret (Ship of Fools, Madame Rosa), a beautiful but unhappily married older woman.

Adapted from the Bradford-set novel by John Braine, Room at the Top explores the poverty, snobbery and prejudice of mid-century provincial England. Signoret is superb as director Jack Clayton (The Innocents, The Pumpkin Eater) explores controversial for the time extramarital affairs, divorce and (male) gold digging. But the film, with its gritty realism and political comment, has sadly dated – oh Joe, you do love me, don’t you says the simpering Susan. Along with Harvey’s ridiculous accent, it’s a film that, whilst a huge box-office success at the time of its release (1959), now finds itself something of a museum piece.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1960, including best film, actor and director – won 2 (Signoret for best actress, adapted screenplay).

Rating: 54%

‘A Simple Favour’

Lightweight but entertaining, A Simple Favour is an engaging comedy drama.

Suburban single mom Stephanie (Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect) gives cooking and homekeeping tips on her vlog and volunteers for just about everything at her son’s school. Yet she befriends the new-in-town glamourous, martini-drinking New York fashion executive, Blake Lively (The Age of Adaline, The Town). When Emily disappears, Stephanie sets out to help find her.

An unusually subtle approach to the material from director Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids) reaps dividends. It’s all style and eye candy (Emily also has the trophy novelist husband in Henry Golding – Crazy Rich Asians, The Gentlemen) but genuinely funny at times – even if the narrative pushes its credibility in the final third of the film.

Rating: 61%

‘Gossip From the Forest’ by Thomas Keneally

November 1918 – and German plenipotentiaries make their way across the country and into enemy territory to sign the Armistice to end the First World War. Their destination is a railway siding in the bleak forest in Compiègne, north east of Paris. They are minor officials, headed by politician Matthias Erzberger, little more than scapegoats for the dishonourable task of surrender.

Mixing fiction with real life events and characters along with speculation and a smattering of rumour and hearsay, Keneally explores the immediacy of the mission. Awaiting the Germans are the two signatories, the Supreme Allied Commander and French representative, Marshall Ferdinand Foch and, for the British, First Sea Lord, Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, along with several members of their staff. Foch, with his long-held anonymosity, is determined to eke out maximum suffering for the Germans, military and civilian alike.

Threatened by famine and anarchy at home along with the perceived threat of the Soviets from the east, Erzberger has been given carte blanche to sign for peace. But the punitive demands on Germany through the proposed continued blockade of ports and huge tonnage reparations of rolling train stock, trucks, tanks and armaments strike fear in his heart. His country will starve. And Foch has made it clear that there are to be no reductions, no negotiations.

On a continent exhausted by four years of slaughter, Compiègne is the location of the final hours. Foch has set 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month for the Armistice to become official and announce the ceasefire. It’s for Erzbeger to make this happen – just a few days after the German delegation first arrived.

Accessible in its telling, Keneally produces a vivid and claustrophobic telling of those final hours of the Great War as men with their own prejudices, wants, demands are confronted by the sheer magnitude of their task. But it is also impossible to read Gossip From the Forest without being aware of the repercussions of the negotiations.

Gossip From the Forest was shortlisted for the 1975 Booker Prize (one of only two) but lost out to Ruth Prawar Jhabvala and Heat & Dust.


Smart and thoughtful though it may be, Frida is an overly clean ‘Hollywood’ biopic of iconic Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek – Savages, Once Upon a Time In Mexico).

Director Julie Taymor (Across the Universe, The Glorias) follows Kahlo from the crippling injury sustained in a tramcar accident as a teenager until her death almost 30 years later, continually wracked by pain. Her naïve folk art style failed to gain much acclaim during her lifetime: Kahlo’s renown was based on marriage to womaniser and internationally-acclaimed muralist, Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina – Love Is Strange, The Da Vinci Code). She also housed refugee, Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush – Shine, The King’s Speech) for a short period and where she reportedly became his lover.

Frida isn’t a bad film – but Taymor for some reason defines this spunky, independent woman by the relationships with the men in her life – particularly Rivera. It undermines her and also avoids the depth of physical pain and suffering Kahlo went through. The result is an engaging but prettified and superficial telling of an enthralling life story. And could so do without those animations!

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2003 (including Hayek), won 2 for best score and makeup.

Rating: 59%