‘The Confession’

A vaguely engrossing two-part true crime miniseries, The Confession sees the law adhered to but justice seemingly bypassed in the (likely) murder of Yorkshire woman Patricia Hall.

In January 1992, Patricia Hall disappeared from her Pudsey home. Husband Keith claims she drove off in the early hours of one morning following an argument. She has never been seen since. Police believed Hall killed his wife and disposed of her body in nearby woodlands. But without a body it’s all circumstantial and, throughout police interrogations, an inscrutable Hall no-comments.

Photographs, re-enactments and interviews with detectives involved in the case, family members, journalists and, extraordinarily, Keith Hall himself form a large part of two-part miniseries. But it’s only the result of events six months later with the investigation taking a new and unexpected turn that the documentary is made. A honey trap sting, a confession, original audio recordings and surveillance all feature in what is legally determined as entrapment of the only suspect.

And that’s where the law was upheld but justice likely not served. In a series of chilling present day interviews, the ‘innocent’ Hall talks of the fateful night and the disappearance of his wife. Yet it’s a very different story he told ‘Liz’, the undercover policewoman, one night in a Yorkshire pub whilst under surveillance.

Rating: 50%

‘The Crown’ (Season 5)

The engagement and turbulent early years of marriage with its breakdown of Prince Charles and Diana were covered extensively in season four of The Crown. And whilst the eventual outcome is known by every viewer, that particular narrative at the end of the season was seemingly and royally shut down by the indubitable Queen (Olivia Colman) who refused to entertain the idea of divorce for the future king.

The latest and penultimate season, along with ushering in a complete cast change, places the divorce and Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) revenge against the Royal family centre stage as we move into the 1990s and the period immediately prior to her tragic death. It’s a period of high drama for the Queen who not only has to deal with her eldest son and his troublesome wife, but is soon to experience her annus horribilis where the marriages of three of her four children breakdown topped by the destructive fire at Windsor Castle.

But, as Imelda Staunton takes on HRH, there’s a shift in the overall positioning of the series. It’s ‘the system’ that is immutable, not the Windsors themselves. The demands of service determine futures and outcomes. The Crown has shifted its support base. To emphasise this stance, Diana, throughout season five, is portrayed as petulant whilst there is noticeably more covert sympathy for Charles (Dominic West) as his patience with his (soon-to-be-ex) wife as well as his out-of-touch mother comes to the fore.

Yet, The Crown’s most scandal-rich season is sadly somewhat dissatisfying as the episodes bounce between the central royals and key individuals who make up the 1990s narratives. It becomes a quagmire of storytelling as introductions are made, histories revisited. There’s a stoical sense of fair play in season five with more of the royals getting to be heard yet the result is a season teetering on melodramatic soap. The Cairo backstory of Mohamed Al Fayed (an immensely likeable Salim Daw) to his present day ownership of Harrods is important for futures but Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) revisiting her love with Peter Townsend is not. The fate of Tzar Nicholas and the Russian royal family aligned with present day political manoueverings with Russian President, Boris Yeltsin (Anatoliy Kotenyov) is dramatically somewhat dull whilst the portrayal of the friendship through carriage-riding between Prince Phillip (Jonathan Pryce) and Penny Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone) is unnecessary, verging on gossip. Such episodic stories deflect – the biggest scandal of all, that of the infamous Princess Diana live interview on the BBC with the now disgraced Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah), could have easily dominated season five. That, along with the allegorical retirement of the now passed-its-sell-by-date Royal Yacht Britannia could, and likely would, have created an engrossing season five.

Instead, with its flitting between stories and characters, the depth of character from Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth in earlier seasons is missing as Stanton is not given enough rein. It’s the superficial storytelling with its lack of depth that undermine this all too familiar tale.

Rating: 60%

‘Conversations With a Killer: the Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes’

A fascinating accompaniment to the Netflix drama miniseries, Dahmer – Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Conversations … is one of a trifecta of Netflix docuseries built around the release of taped interviews with serial killers (Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy being the other two).

Over three one hour programs, Dahmer is heard talking, in interview, to his lawyer Wendy Patrickus prior to his trial in 1991 for multiple murder. Witness accounts, journalists, law enforcers, family and friends of victims along with Patrickus herself are all interviewed and included in the series. Milwaukee by night, Dahmer’s neighbourhood and film from gay bars of the 1980s add background context

The dismemberment and dispersement of the bodies are detailed by Dahmer to a young and relatively new defence attorney with Patrickus admitting she found it difficult to hear all the details. But a non-judgemental reaction was crucial. The tapes are balanced with archival news footage, interviews with police and legal representatives at the time along with (limited) courtroom footage of the trial.

It’s an extraordinary unfolding (and the docuseries also highlights the level of accuracy presented in Dahmer – Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story – even to the point of the physical appearances of many cast members to the people they portray) although padded. Lots of moody, soft-focus footage of ‘Dahmer’ and ‘Patrickus’ in prison meeting rooms and graphics of the internal mechanisms of cassette recorders highlight the limited visual appeal of the raw material. But that does not distract from the horrors of Dahmer’s crimes, told by the perpetrator in a matter-of-fact tone. The series avoids overt sensationalism – footage of the emptying of Dahmer’s flat along with a few descriptions is sufficient for the extent of his crimes to be understood.

Rating: 70%

‘Head On’

Controversial Christos Tsoliakos novel Loaded adapted for the big screen, Head On is a confronting, sexualised drama of acceptance and rebellion.

Eldest son in a migrant Greek family, unemployed 19 year-old Ari (Alex Dimitriades – TV’s The Slap, The Principal) constantly clashes with his father. Good looking and a popular lad around the predominantly Greek Sydney neighbourhood, Ari is a closeted gay male involved in drugs and furtive sexual encounters.

Director Ana Kokkinos (The Book of Revelation, Blessed) perfectly captures the insular migrant environment of early 1990s Australia with its brutal, dog-eat-dog world of survival as Ari, with a mix of vulnerability and arrogance, confronts family and friends within his double life.

Rating: 64%

‘Dating Amber’

A charming coming-of-age story as two gay teenagers decide on a straight relationship in order to stop the rumours and bullying at school.

A feisty Amber (Lola Petticrew – A Bump Along the Way, Wolf) is no shrinking violet as she calls the shots at the village school a few miles outside Dublin. And she has a few words of advice to the fearful and closeted Eddie (Fionn O’Shea – Handsome Devil, Cherry), an eldest son expected to follow his dad (Barry Ward – TV’s White Lines, Des) into the army.

Director David Freyne’s (The Cured) gentle exploration of coming out in Ireland in the 90s is set a couple of years after legalisation. It runs out of steam towards the end, but Dating Amber is an engaging if slight (and predictable) narrative buoyed by excellent performances from both Petticrew and O’Shea.

Rating: 61%


A three day Christmas period in 1991 as Princess Diana, struggling with mental health and an eating disorder, finds herself at Sandringham with the in-laws.

An extraordinary tense three days as Diana (a rarely off-screen Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Seberg) is forced to deal with the traditions of royalty whilst barely speaking to a philandering Prince Charles (Jack Farthing – The Lost Daughter, Official Secrets) or the rest of the family. Whilst her children and staff below stairs (particularly Diana’s dresser, Maggie – Sally Hawkins, Maudie, The Shape of Water) provide a semblance of stability, it’s the haunting presence of the executed Anne Boleyn foremost in her mind.

A strident soundtrack, a vast impersonal Sandringham (Schloss Nordkirchen in Westphalia) and an oppressive, bullying Royal Equiry (Timothy Spall – Mr Turner, Denial) add to Diana’s sense of dislocation. This is not the Windsors of The Crown – director Pablo Larrain (Jackie, Neruda) returns the narrative firmly back to the cold, impersonal, tradition-oriented territory of Stephen Frears’ The Queen.

Nominated for the 2022 best actress Oscar.

Rating: 64%


A quirkily presented four-part miniseries based on true events, Landscapers follows the case brought by the Crown against Susan and Christopher Edwards following the discovery of the bodies of Susan’s parents, buried in the back garden of their Mansfield home.

Abused as a child, immersed in the world of film and books, Susan (Olivia Colman) is socially awkward who unexpectedly finds love and marriage, via the internet, with Christopher (David Thewliss). The couple are devoted to each other. But, 16 years earlier, not long after they first married, the Edwards buried the dead bodies of Susan’s parents. And they have just been discovered.

A non-linear docudrama, Landscapers avoids traditional realist telling, instead creating a tonally limited, predominantly studio-bound drama with a captivating Colman trapped in her fantasist world of westerns and film noir. Creator Ed Sinclair thinks nothing of stagily placing the Edwards, along with the investigating police, in a scene of 16 years previously as Susan desperately attempts to prove her innocence. Redirecting the unfolding scene, DC Emma Lancing (Kate O’Flynn) puts forward a different course of events.

Oddities abound in Landscapers, made more probable by the fact the miniseries is based on the truth. The couple were found guilty (no spoilers – this is revealed from the off) but they continue to protest of their innocence with mitigating circumstances. Presented with sympathy and empathy, this particular drama likely supports that, at least in part. 

Rating: 72%

‘The Puppet Master’

Indulgent and overlong, the three-part documentary is the extraordinary expose of The Puppet Master, a conman masquerading as a spy, and the victims he leaves behind.

The story is both unbelievable and unforgettable. Robert Hendy-Freegard and his coercive abuse over many years destroyed lives and families, emptying bank accounts as he did so. So extreme at times, his behaviour borders on absurd. Handed down a life sentence when finally caught in 2004, on appeal Hendy-Freegard was released. His argument being his victims were always free to leave and money passed hands willingly. Coercive control was not, in the late 1990s/early 2000s, recognisable in law.

One victim, Sarah Smith, was under his control for a decade, moving from place to place in hiding from the IRA (Henry-Freegard claimed to be an MI5 agent). The Clifton siblings have not seen their mother for nearly a decade. Having met the charming Hendy-Freegard after he had been released from prison, he moved into their home and soon separated mother from her two children. The Puppet Master travels between the decades of the two stories (and collecting more and more victims in between).

Tales told are unquestionably extraordinary. And The Puppet Master chillingly dissects the mechanism of coercive control and abuse. But directors Sam Benstead and Gareth Johnson over-indulge as they overdramatise the selective telling. Too many repetitions and repeats of situations and re-enacted longeurs of isolated, mist shrouded telephone boxes undermine what is a harrowing true story. It needed to be 30 minutes shorter – or 30 minutes used differently rather than simply rehashing the same material.

Rating: 50%


A social realist slice of everyday life, director Li Dongmei, in her feature film debut, revisits the memories of 1990s childhood days in a mountainous rural Chinese village.

It’s long, it’s slow, it’s fragmentary. Lingering shots of children walking steep footpaths on the way to school; a funeral cortege; family meals with no words spoken. Mama can be challenging viewing – the director is in no hurry to move the narrative forward with her limited dialogue. But it’s an immersive experience that settles into the rhythm of rural life. 12-year-old Xiaoxian, over a seven day period, reflects on the simplicity of a hard life where births, deaths and illness are the norm.

Evocative, at 134 minutes Mama is a little too indulgent, the meditative pace can, as one critic succinctly stated, see Dongmei in this memory exercise of reconstruction…forget the viewers

Rating: 60%

‘Hating Peter Tatchell’

Melbourne-born, Peter Tatchell became one of the most reviled people in 1980s/90s Britain as he campaigned tirelessly – and controversially – for gay (and later, broader human) rights.

Abused by a deeply religious stepfather, Tatchell left Australia in 1971 and within days of arriving in London he found himself involved in organising the first Gay Pride March in the UK. He has been at the forefront of political activism ever since – both in Britain and overseas. Not without his critics for his confrontational approach, Tatchell is now regarded as one of the most important influencers of his generation for change in human rights. Now venerated rather than reviled, Tatchell has been physically beaten on more than 300 occasions, arrested in excess of 100 times, participated in over 3,500 protests and received more than 500 death threats. He has semi permanent brain damage as the result of the physical attacks.

Director Christopher Amos weaves Ian McKellen interviewing Tatchell and other significant personalities (supporters and critics) with archive footage of the activist on his various campaigns. It’s a fascinating journey and insight into a man who continues to campaign on political and environmental issues.

Rating: 74%