‘Conviction: the Murder of Stephen Lawrence’

A three part dramatisation, it took 18 years for the family of the murdered London teenager to finally achieve some kind of justice.

When DCI Clive Driscoll (Steve Coogan) inadvertently comes across a mass of seemingly abandoned case files, his curiosity results in the reopening of Stephen Lawrence murder case of 13 years earlier. A racially motivated attack had resulted in the black 18 year old being killed whilst waiting for a bus in south London.

Carefully revisiting evidence and attempting to reinterview witnesses and family members, Driscoll discovers police ineptitude and corruption as Stephen’s high-profile mother, Doreen Lawrence (Sharlene Whyte) continues to campaign for justice and wider anti-racism. With new technology available to assess evidence, Driscoll overcomes racism, internal stonewalling and the retirement of many of the investigating team to piece together new evidence in an attempt to charge some, if not all, of the five assailants.

It’s a respectful, moving and shocking three part dramatisation quietly and procedurally told as an embarrassed Driscoll works closely with an initially suspicious Doreen and ex-husband, Neville (Hugh Quarshie) now living in Jamaica. Two previous attempts had resulted in dashed hopes as evidence failed to convict. It still takes five years to bring charges against individuals who were the chief suspects 18 years earlier.

Rating: 66%

‘After Story’ by Larissa Behrendt

Longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, After Story is a tale of family, healing and personal atonement as an indigenous mother and daughter travel together to the UK.

A recent law graduate, Jasmine has long moved away from her home and community. Hers is now a Sydney life with a small group of professional indigenous women as friends. The youngest daughter of three, twenty-five years earlier the disappearance of Jasmine’s older sister Brittany devastated their tight-knit community – and put both of her parents firmly in the media spotlight. When Jasmine finds herself with two places on an organised literary trip touring some of England’s most revered literary sites, inexplicably she decides to take Della with her. It’s the first time her mother has travelled overseas.

With the disappearance of Brittany, family life fell apart with the parents under suspicion. At less than three years old at the time, Jasmine barely remembers her sister. Her parents split up and, with Della drunk more often than sober, Jasmine was raised by Aunty Elaine. Not a blood relative, it was she who embodied the power of women and keepers of tradition as well as introducing Jasmine to reading of the English novels of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Relations between mother and daughter have long been strained but in travelling together, Jasmine hopes that time away from the everyday reminders will bring them closer together and help them reconcile the past. But just days into their trip, a young girl goes missing from Hampstead Heath and their personal memories come back to haunt them. As Jasmine immerses herself in the world of the Brontes and Jane Austen, making friends with members of the small travelling group, so Della disappears into her own memories and wisdom of her own culture and storytelling.

At its best, After Story is a powerful novel of mothers and daughters, of shared memories and experiences. But sadly, the narrative too frequently slips into academia as the pompous American professor of literature clashes with feminist thought in dismissing Virginia Woolf or Emily Bronte as secondary writers. Jasmine may love her books but Larissa Behrendt lives and breathes academic study and this is reflected in her writing. Too frequently, parts of After Story read like a short paper to be submitted for assessment.


Gender reversal all action, gun blazing rom com as Cole discovers the woman of his (first date) dreams is a CIA operative.

Having moved back home to help his dad on the farm, the romantic Cole (Chris Evans – Captain America: the First Avenger, Knives Out) is looking for love. A sparky contact at the farmers market with Sadie (Ana de Armas – Blonde, Knives Out) results in what seems the perfect first date. But over the next few days, there’s no response from Cole’s 30+ texts. Discovering she is in London, what could be more romantic than surprising Sadie at her hotel? Wrong!

Packed with Marvel cameos, an excess of everything follows as every cliché in the book is packed into Ghosted by director Dexter Fletcher (Rocketman, Sunshine on Leith). The result is a tedious hotchpotch of OTT, predominantly Pakistan-set action (dead bodies galore) as the intrepid two look to prevent Leveque (Adrien Brody – The Pianist, The Jacket) selling a WMD to the highest bidder.

Rating: 30%

‘See How They Run’

Derivative and old-fashioned it may be, but there’s something immensely entertaining in this 1950s whodunnit set in London’s West End and the production of Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap.

As chances of a Hollywood film are discussed, so a murder following the 100th performance of the play puts such plans in jeopardy. But whodunnit? With a minimal number of suspects – cast members and production team – that’s up to cynical old-hand Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell – Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and naive new recruit, WPC Stalker (Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn, Atonement) to solve.

With more than a nod towards Wes Anderson (including a starry cast), See How They Run is a fun, camp romp as the likes of gay playwright David Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo – Selma, The Midnight Sky) and Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson – Where the Crawdads Sing, Beach Rats) all come under suspicion.

Rating: 63%

‘The People We Hate at the Wedding’

A divided family, a philandering ex-husband and a continent and money separating the siblings – a wedding is just what is needed to bring everyone together. Or not.

The last thing self-absorbed siblings Alice (Kristen Bell – Bad Moms, Veronica Mars) and Paul (Ben Platt – Pitch Perfect, Dear Evan Hansen) want to do is travel to London to attend the wedding of their estranged half-sister, Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson – The Accountant, TV’s Shooter). Alice is too busy in LA having an affair with her married boss whilst Philadelphia-based Paul is steadfastly ignoring their mom (Allison Janny – I Tonya, Lou). But travel they all do and with them go their issues and problems where, at the rehearsal dinner, they become the people we hate at the wedding.

Poor taste and unfunny scenarios underscore director Claire Scanlon’s (Set It Up, TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine) family comedy as Alice is confronted by the wife, Paul splits up with domineering boyfriend Dominic (Karan Soni) and Eloise has a meltdown. There’s more but in its attempt to be the champagne of ‘feel-good’ rom coms, The People… instead goes straight to the immobilising next day hangover.

Rating: 30%

‘Howards End’

Beautifully adapted from the E.M. Forster classic novel and one of Merchant Ivory’s most acclaimed films, Howards End is an elegant love story that is a simultaneous commentary on class and suffrage in Edwardian England.

The enlightened Schlagel sisters Margaret (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, The Remains of the Day) and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter – Harry Potter, The King’s Speech) find themselves involved with the wealthy and landed Wilcox family as Margaret befriends the ailing matriarch, Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave – Atonement, The Bostonians). At Ruth’s death, Margaret unexpectedly finds herself attracting the attention of Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins – The Father, Thor) – much to the dismay of her sister.

Far more than ‘merely’ a costume drama, the golden team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (A Room With a View, The Remains of the Day) have created, in its pauses, silences and unhurried stillness a narrative of nuanced beauty and intimacy. As the two families attract and repel, repel and attract, so, with more than a touch of Forster’s love of mixing the classes, Helen finds herself attracted to clerk, Leonard Bast (Samuel West – Van Helsing, Darkest Hour) and tragedy inevitably looms.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 1993 including best film, director, supporting actress (Redgrave), costume design, won 3 for best actress (Thompson), adapted screenplay and art/set design.

Rating: 71%

‘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.


Bad boy of classical ballet, Sergei Polunin, rose quickly to be the world’s best – and just as quickly seemingly threw it all away.

Of Russian parentage born in Kherson in the Ukraine, Polunin was pushed and cajoled from an early age into ballet. Combining early archive footage along with interviews with teachers, family, friends, colleagues, critics, Dancer follows Polunin from those early Ukraine days to the Royal Ballet School in London to the youngest Principal at The Royal Ballet. But fast living, alcohol and drugs resulted in his commitment being questioned – with Polunin deciding to quit and return to Moscow.

Directed by Steven Cantor (What Will Become of Us, Twyla Moves) Dancer is a strange hybrid of the rebellious, heavily tattooed dancer. Arrogant and indulged, vulnerable and uncertain, Polunin is all of these and more. But ultimately Dancer is unsatisfying in spite of the inclusion of extraordinary dance footage – his retirement is known to be short-lived with his return even more controversial than when he danced with The Royal Ballet.

Rating: 64%

‘Walking On Glass’ by Iain Banks

The second novel from Banks and following on from the mordant, gothic wit of The Wasp Factory, Walking On Glass is a very different proposition altogether. Three seemingly interdependent narratives, three different voices.

Set in pre-champagne socialist Islington and Clerkenwell in north London of the 1980s, art student Graham is in love. Naive, innocent, romantic, he has his heart set on Sara ffitch, recently divorced out of an abusive marriage. But it being Banks, even as Sara appears to respond to Graham’s interest, nothing is straightforward.

In the same Islington streets, a paranoid Steven Grout only just copes with the world around him. Constantly sacked from menial labour-intensive work, a wearer of hard hats to prevent gamarays affecting his thoughts, Grout is truly on the spectrum. His one joy is getting blindingly drunk.

And then, on a planet that transpires to be Earth in the distant future, a Banksian Gormenghast sees two elderly protagonists, Quiss and Ajayi, struggling with a captivity they desperately look to escape. Forced to provide the answer to the question What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?, the two must complete almost impossible board games (blank dominoes, Chinese scrabble) before being able to provide what they think is the right answer. Their quest is stretched out interminably with the ever-impatient Quiss using the downtime (Ajayi needs to learn Chinese in order to play the latest board game) to explore their imprisonment.

Three seemingly interdependent narratives, three different voices. Yet there is the inevitably of a collision of the three as alternate chapters explore the three stories. And that’s a fundamental problem with Walking On Glass, a novel that is disparate in its telling and somewhat dull – Graham is a dullard, Quiss a bully, Grout tedious. None of the three separate narratives are particularly engaging – although admittedly the full extent of Banks’ dark imagination was not expected in the full reveal of the love story. And the funnel that conjoins the tales is less than impressive. Whereas The Wasp Factory was full of cruelty, sadistic carnage – and deep, sardonic wit, Walking On Glass is a skip in the park, a suburban angst of little and unconvincing consequence. Sara is mean, Quiss potentially violent but it all feels pre-The Wasp Factory, that the reality being the Islington-set tales were written considerably earlier than the first novel.

‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’

Earnest in its exploration of sexual awakening for a widowed 60something year old woman, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is original as it is important.

Retired schoolteacher Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, The Remains of the Day) hires sex-worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack – TV’s Bad Sisters, Peaky Blinders) for a day of adventure and sex. An innocuous hotel room provides the setting for the nervous, sexually dissatisfied Nancy as the two, through conversation, form a bond. So much so a few weeks later she hires the charismatic Leo again.

Directed by Sophie Hyde (Animals, Life in Movement), a confined, understated tale of two people unfolds. With a brave, empowering performance from Thompson and a supportive, nuanced McCormack, the two hold the screen alone for more than 90% of the 100 minute running time, resulting in an utterly compelling depiction of not only an older woman’s sexual experience but the unravelling of many of Nancy’s rigid beliefs and values.

Rating: 75%