‘Queen Charlotte – a Bridgerton Story’

Bridgerton 3: a six part season providing a Bridgerton backdrop to Queen Charlotte’s marriage to George III and the social ‘experiment’ instigated by Dowager Princess Augusta and a reluctant parliament.

There’s only a smattering of Bridgerton regulars in season three as the majority of the narrative focuses on the arrival in London of teenage Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and the early years of her marriage to George (Corey Mylchreest). Bethrothed to George against her wishes, Charlotte is not happy. As we already know, things are not quite right in the royal household. But Queen Charlotte – a Bridgerton Story is set several decades before seasons one and two. As the older Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) struggles to secure succession from her many adult children, so she is reminded of the early days of marriage.

With George’s mother, Dowager Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) herself struggling with parliament to ensure the royal succession, the arranged marriage looks good for all concerned. Assuming Charlotte to be a passive minor German royal of good child bearing stock, as a black woman she is also perfect for the ‘experiment’ of social integration. But Charlotte is anything but passive and soon challenges royal protocol and prerogative. Expect plenty of clashes between mother and daughter-in-law, husband and wife, king’s valet (Reynolds – Freddie Dennis) and queen’s valet, Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) as Charlotte discovers she’s actually in love with her husband.

It’s a fun ride, interspersed with that of the elevation of the Danburys to the aristocracy – the first titled black family. Lady Agatha Danbury (Arsema Thomas) and Queen Charlotte become firm friends but Lord Danbury’s early death throws a spanner into the works regarding succession.

For fans of Bridgerton (and there are many!) invested in the characters, season three provides historical backstories to the three senior women of the series – Queen Charlotte (a personal favourite), Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Anode) and Lady Violet Ledger Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). But to be honest, like the first two seasons, it could have been achieved so much quicker. There’s a little too much of a young sulky/angry Charlotte eating alone or regaling Brimsley. The result is a somewhat repetitive narrative. But it’s lightweight entertainment well told exceptionally well cast – and it throws in social commentary of contemporary issues (racism, homophobia, sex, republicanism) for good measure.

Rating: 58%

Bridgerton Season 1

Bridgerton Season 2

‘In Our Blood’

In this engaging, four part factional miniseries, In Our Blood looks to the fear and prejudice of 1980s Australia as the threat of HIV/AIDS becomes very real.

As the Australian Labor Party sweeps to a landslide victory at the 1984 elections, so expectation among the gay community is one of hope. David Westford (Tim Draxl) leaves his partner Gabe (Oscar Leal) in their home in Sydney on weekdays to become special advisor to the health minister Jeremy Wilding (Matt Day) in Canberra: a direct voice is established. But trust must be won.

Bigotry and violence is rife but through fictional characters and scenarios alongside a gender queer Greek-style Chorus dipping in and out of the unfolding narrative with a capella versions of popular songs of the time, In Our Blood tells the oft visited subject in a new and engaging way. And it’s not all about the boys – even though Westford occasionally feels his is the solitary voice. Arguably the most convincing trope is the leather clad Jada Alberts and her lipstick lesbian partner, Anna McGahan. Their apartment becomes a call centre and early refuge for those with nowhere to go as the campaign for increased awareness and a response by the authorities steps up.

It’s engaging but an unquestionably patchy four parter. We need to scare the shit out of them as uttered by Westford is the byeline in Canberra (and everywhere else) – and through clever and targeted policies and advertising, eventually they do. Yet, in spite of its subject, there’s a surprising lack of emotional heft and Draxl does not quite have the range needed to convince. Which is a pity for a miniseries with its heart in the right place that needed the gravitas.

Rating: 61%

‘The Bostonians’

Suffrage and sapphic love in 19th century Boston adapted from the novel by Henry James results in an elegant but dull and overly worthy costume drama.

A wealthy Boston feminist, Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave – Atonement, Howards End), competes with a conservative, anti-suffrage Southern lawyer, Basil Ransome (Christopher Reeve – Superman, The Remains of the Day) for the heart and mind of the eloquent Verena (Madeleine Potter – The White Countess, The Golden Bowl), a much-in-demand public speaker for the women’s movement. Recognising her own limitations as a public speaker in articulating the inequalities faced by women, Olive looks to Verena to further the cause. Ransome simply wants to marry her and take her back to Mississippi.

A controversial novel in its day and inspired loosely by the life of James’ sister, The Bostonians as directed by James Ivory (Howards End, A Room With a View) is stylish and understated – but ultimately lacking in emotion or soul.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1985 for best actress and costume design.

Rating: 49%

‘Best of Friends’ by Kamila Shamsie

A tale of identity (personal and political) and the ties of friendship over forty years, Best of Friends was surprisingly chosen as one of the best books of 2022 by, among others, The Guardian, The Observer and The Financial Times.

Told in a split time frame in two parts – 1988 Pakistan and present day London – Shamsie’s novel presents best friends Maryam and Zahra. As 14 year olds in Karachi, they are already besties of a decade and share a love for George Michael, a blooming curiosity in boys and a determination to be successful in their lives. For the wealthy Maryam, favoured over her father by the entrepreneurial grandfather, there is little question as to her road to success. The family leather business is hers for the taking. And in modern day Pakistan, with Benazir Bhutto poised to become the first female prime minister, Maryam’s future is not so absurd a prospect in the traditional male domain.

Zahra’s future is not so assured – but with a likely Cambridge scholarship on the cards, she can succeed through academic prowress and support from her comfortable middle-class parents – a cricket journalist and school principal.

With change in the air, the atmosphere in Karachi is electric. But a decision to attend a party results in the world of the two teenage girls changing forever.

Thirty years later, Maryam and Zahra remain friends but, now living in London, their lives failed to follow the expected path – certainly for Maryam. Packed off to boarding school in the UK shortly after the infamous incident at the party and the family business sold thereafter, Maryam’s path to success proved to be a little more arduous. But a success she is in the world of finance and startups. Zahra has also succeeded in the public sector and heads a London-based NGO. They remain friends, bound together by loyalties and shared memories of the past.

Two influential women both moving in the corridors of power. But when the past finally catches up with them, a rash decision by Zahra threatens the very basis of the women’s friendship.

Best of Friends is a fairly well written tale, but one full of safe platitudes. The reader is rarely allowed under the skin of the two protagonists – it’s more surface explanation than in-depth exploration. There’s little in terms of the gap between the two timeframes and why the two have remained friends. We’re simply told that that is the case. Considering Shamsie’s novel is exploring the very nature of friendship, we need more. Ultimately, Best of Friends is a disappointment: safe in a cosy, unchallenging way – even the reveal of Maryam’s sexuality and home life is a suburban extension of the novel’s underwhelming lack of tension.

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

A Tennessee Williams’ potboiler as emotions run high in the 1950s Mississippi cotton plantation as Big Daddy Pollitt awaits his test results.

Former sports star and favoured son Brick (Paul Newman – Hud, The Hustler) and wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor – Cleopatra, Suddenly Last Summer) are not getting on too well, not helped by his love of the bottle. As tensions rise in the heat, older brother Gooper (Jack Carson – A Star Is Born, Mildred Pierce) uses this to his advantage as far as positioning himself in his father’s favour – more than helped by his deeply unpleasant wife, Mae (Madeleine Sherwood – Sweet Bird of Youth, The Changeling) and their six young children.

In the course of one night, the Pollitt family are rent apart by the ambitions of various members of the family with Big Dady (Burl Ives – The Big Country, Our Man in Havana) a towering force responding to each and every one of them. The tension crackles in director Richard Brooks’ (Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood) adaptation of a humid and suffocating southern birthday celebration.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1959 – best film, director, actor, actress, adapted screenplay, cinematography.

Rating: 79%


Infuriating and grating, Bros sees two commitment-phobic gay men attempt a relationship.

A political activist, Billy (Billy Eichner – TV’s American Horror Story, Parks and Recreation) is possibly one of the most irritating screen characters around. Chairing the committee looking to raise money for the LGBTQ+ museum, he’s the professional gay spokesman that knows it all. But he’s not particularly attractive in a world of body fascism. So when he meets the beefy Aaron (Luke Macfarlane – TV’s Brothers and Sisters, Killjoys), Billy struggles to believe what’s happening.

Bros (written and directed by Eichner and Nicholas Stoller – Neighbours Get Him to the Greek) means well but simply fails – the neurotic Eichner cannot hold a candle to Woody Allen, resulting in an imbalance of empathy and the desire for Billy to simply shut up and go away.

Rating: 38%

‘Beach Rats’

An artfully told coming-of-age tale as 17 year old Frankie (Harris Dickinson – Where the Crawdads Sing, The Darkest Minds) hangs out with his mates on the basketball courts, chats up girls – and searches the internet for hookups with older men.

Textural and poetic, Beach Rats is a gentle unfold of a narrative with writer/director Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always, It Felt Like Love) creating a paean to adolescent innocence and its associated awkwardness. With a docudrama aesthetic, the tension for Frankie and his interaction with mom Donna (Kate Hodge – TV’s She-Wolf of London, One Life to Live) and new girlfriend, Madeline Weinstein (Queen of Glory, TV’s Mare of Easttown) is palpable in his personal sexual self-discovery.

Rating: 69%

‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ by Shehan Karunatilaka

Mordantly funny, brimming with pathos, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida looks to explore and expose the carnage of Sri Lanka’s civil wars – and identify the killers of acclaimed war photographer, Maali Almeida.

But this is no grim realism of a novel. Almeida himself is our narrator and, in finding himself, in 1990, in the afterlife bureaucratic waiting rooms awaiting his fate, discovers he has just seven moons left before his eternal fate is determined. He is dead for real and not, as Almeida first suspected, simply hallucinating from pills taken. This high-stakes gambler, gay man and atheist has been murdered by some faction or high ranking official. His dismembered body is, with so many other victims of the wars, sinking in the Beira Lake.

Those seven moons must be used wisely to identify his killers, contact the man (DD) and woman (Jaki) he loves most to help them find his body and to lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will expose the highest levels of corruption. Only there’s plenty of threatening distractions, lost souls and violent spirits getting in the way, as well as time needed to find out exactly what he can and cannot do as a dead body.

Described as part ghost story, part whodunnit, part political satire, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, set in the In Between before proceeding toward The Light seven days later when the Tigers, the Army, the Indian peacekeepers, the JVP terrorists and state death squads were all killing each other at a prolific rate. A time of curfews, bombs, assassinations, abductions and mass graves, the afterlife offices are busy: bloodied activists, politicians, intellectuals, journalists mingle with civilians and the military minus arms, legs. The waiting room is not for the faint-hearted.

Embroiled in afterlife red tape, mirroring his friends’ attempts to discover his whereabouts (not helped by the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by the photographer before his demise), Almeida reflects on personal memories of war, the photographs he took, his own moral and ethical dilemmas as well as an awkward relationship with his mother. Jaki was seen by many as his official girlfriend yet DD, son of a government minister, was the love of his life – even if he constantly cheated.

It’s a frenetic novel that is incisive, frustrating, funny, confusing. Karunatilaka’s prose is informal, jagged and, in content if not style, he channels George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. A refreshing sophomore novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida unexpectedly won the 2022 Booker Prize, lauded by the judges for its ambition in scope and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques.

‘My Policeman’

Episodic and dull, a split time-frame telling of what should be a moving tale of love and denial is instead pedantic and uninvolving.

Seemingly carefree young lovers Marion (Emma Corrin – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, TV’s The Crown) and Tom make plans for their future. But its the late 1950s and policeman Tom (Harry Styles – Dunkirk, Don’t Worry Darling) holds on to deep secrets. Decades later, the arrival of the wheelchair-bound Patrick (Rupert Everett – The Happy Prince, Comfort of Strangers) to their home triggers unhappy memories for the now-married couple. With Tom (Linus Roach – A Call to Spy, Non-Stop) in denial, Marion (Gina McKee – Atonement, Phantom Thread) reads Patrick’s journals and reflects on events that wrenched their lives and the love affair between Tom and Patrick apart.

With homosexuality illegal in 1950s Britain, the two men created a front to protect themselves including the marriage of Tom to a naive Marion. Marion now recognises the realities for what they were – but too late for all concerned. My Policeman has all the potential for emotive, painful drama but a wooden Styles and director Michael Grandage’s (Red, Genius) decision to use the split timeframes to excess results in a hybrid soap opera melodrama with surprisingly little substance.

Rating: 49%

‘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%