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Required viewing by Jan 4, 2015: Your ‘Downton Abbey’ primer to new cast members

November 23, 2014

The long-awaited return of Downton Abbey on PBS’ Masterpiece series is so close you can almost reach out and touch it. We are in countdown calendar mode, folks. The Crawley family returns a mere 6 weeks from today or 42 days if that makes it seem even closer. Or, how about the fact that there are approximately 1000 hours until January 4, 2015! While I’m still a bit upset that Nanny West and all the drama that she would bring to the table will not be around for series 5, there are a number of new characters that will be joining the Crawley’s both upstairs and down when January 4 rolls around. It will truly be a ‘you can’t tell the players without a scorecard’ scenario this season. There are new ladies, lords, and maids this season, all bringing there own special drama and all that that entails to Downton.

While the main cast remains from last series (sans Michael Gregson, at this point in time), as you can see, there are a number of new faces with Richard E. Grant, Sue Johnston and Anna Chancellor all arriving at Downton this year. New faces aside, I so can’t wait to see the storyline that emerges that suggests Violet really ought not to be the one to throw stones while living in a glass house….Are you ready for some Downton?

Hugh Laurie added to cast of HBO’s Veep

November 22, 2014

Approximately three years removed from his brilliant portrayal of Dr. Gregory House, the pain medication-dependent, unconventional, misanthropic medical genius, TVLine.com reports that Hugh Laurie is returning to the small screen to join the cast of Veep, the HBO political comedy series which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the country’s vice-president-turned-Commander-in-Chief. While this will be Laurie’s first scripted small screen series effort since House ended in 2012, the former Golden Globe winner hasn’t seen his workload diminish too much choosing instead to focus on his first love, music, releasing two CD’s and filming the PBS special, “Let Them Talk”, which took Laurie on at trip to New Orleans to explore the roots of blues and jazz music, and “Live on the Queen Mary”, which also aired on PBS.
Hugh Laurie plays the blues in New Orleans

While his Veep role remains somewhat secretive (now that Dreyfus is POTUS, could he possibly become the new ‘Veep’?), Laurie has already begun filming in Baltimore for the upcoming fourth season which will premiere in 2015. The coming year is already shaping up to be a busy year for Laurie who will also star alongside fellow English actor, Tom Hiddleston (Thor, I Saw the Light), in the upcoming BBC adaptation of the John le Carre novel, The Night Manager, which will also broadcast on AMC network in America.

Season four of Veep is set to air in 2015 on HBO. I could vote for a Louis-Dreyfus/Laurie next election, how about you?

Downton Abbey’s Lily James goes from Lady Rose to Cinderella

November 21, 2014

If you’re Lily James, it’s a long, long way from her accustomed upstairs Lady Rose lifestyle in Downton Abbey to her newest poor servant girl covered in ashes ‘downstairs’ lifestyle in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. Ok, there was that one time she did wear that downstairs maid outfit in series four when she met up with a servant class gardener who took a fancy to her after protecting her on the dance floor, but that was only for a brief moment in one episode and she quickly reverted back to the Lady Rose lifestyle.
Downton Abbey's Lily James as Cinderella

Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming feature seems to be a pretty by-the-book, faithful take on the story of Cinderella. The Branagh-directed film follows the fortunes of young Ella (Lily James) whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) into the family home. But, when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Sophie McShera is no stranger to the upstairs/downstairs lifestyle as you might recognize her as Daisy on Downton Abbey. Actually, after seeing pics from Cinderella, you might not recognize her. Well, you know the story from here…

Ella is relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella. Despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.” From those words, Ella’s take is “where there is kindness there is goodness, and where there is goodness there is magic”.

Good thing Ella is determined to not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her as timing is everything as she soon meets a dashing stranger in the woods (a.k.a. Prince Charming). Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit (Game of Thrones‘s Richard Madden). Unfortunately, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham Carter) steps forward and, armed with a pumpkin and a few mice, changes Cinderella’s life forever.

Branagh’s version, which closely follows the 1950 Disney animated film, also stars Hayley Atwell, Sir Derek Jacobi and Stellan Skarsgard and is set to hit the UK cinema on 27 March 2015. No word yet on a release date in America.

Idris Elba wants more ‘Luther’ on both sides of the pond

November 20, 2014

While one of the darkest, grittiest series on telly decides just how it will return in the future, Deadline.com is reporting that Idris Elba, who starred as DCI John Luther in the original British version, has signed on as an Executive Producer for a possible American re-make on Fox.
Idris Elba as DCI John Luther

More importantly, regarding the future of the hit BBC One series, Elba told Radio Times that he is quite keen on more Luther at some point in the not-too-distant future although nothing is quite ready for filming to begin just yet. For Luther to return, however, Elba does not want a full fourth series of the crime drama but would be more inclined to pursue a single episode comeback. “I am desperately trying to make that happen,” Elba said. There’s a story idea but no script yet. But we’re gunning to do it at the end of this year. There’s a lot of pressure from everyone to make it, so we’re gonna do it. I put my heart and soul into it,” revealed Elba. “I love John Luther. I played John at a very dark time in my life. And I so love John because I get to exorcise; it’s so cathartic, it’s therapy.” A perfect example of Elba’s heart and soul efforts…

Of less importance in my book, regarding the American remake, which is to be co-executive produced by Luther creator, Neil Cross, and Elba, the original British series has received a pilot commitment from Fox which ultimately means it may or may not ever come to a television set near you in yours or anyone else’s lifetime. All one has to do is point to the likes of Gracepoint, the Fox re-make of Broadchurch to see how other attempts to ‘Americanize’ brilliant British drama haven’t quite gone the way network executives would like. Hopefully, with Luther, Elba won’t try to perfect an American accent and cast himself in the lead role. To be fair, CBS’ Elementary is pretty good, although it will never be Sherlock. With Elba’s help and the involvement of Cross, let’s hold out hope but, unfortunately, the track record isn’t on their side.

Harry Pearce returns to the grid in ‘Spooks: The Greater Good’

November 19, 2014

Television is a funny piece of furniture. There are times when a series comes to an end and you know it’s time for it to go before it passes its sell-by date. Sadly, there are times, more often than not, that you think a series should come to an end yet it continues for several more seasons. There are those magical times, however, where you endlessly wish a series would go on forever but instead it comes to an all-ends-nicely-tied-up ending. The last scenario, for me, would define my thoughts on Spooks or MI-5 as it was titled in America, which went out on a perfect note in 2011.

While Spooks came to an all to early end after 10 brilliant series on BBC1 in the UK and a number of public television stations in the States, there is a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel with the announcement that the forthcoming feature film, Spooks: The Greater Good, will be released in UK theatres on 8 May 2015 from Pinewood Pictures. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington will lead the cast of the movie, with Spooks veteran Peter Firth reprising his role as Harry Pearce, head of the Counter-Terrorism department, a.k.a. Section D, of MI5.
Spooks The Greater Good confirmed for UK release on 8 May 2015

Unfortunately, as one would expect from anything that has to do with Her Majesty’s Security Service, not much is known about the storyline so far other than it focuses on Pearce being forced to resign after high-profile terrorist Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escapes from MI5 custody during a routine handover. When Pearce disappears off a bridge into the Thames, former agent Will Holloway (Harington) is drafted in from Moscow to foil a bomb thread from Qasim and uncover the truth surrounding the disappearance of his former mentor.
Game of Thrones star, Kit Harington, leads cast of Spooks The Greater Good

While most of Harry’s direct reports didn’t survive their time at MI-5 (i.e. Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage, David Oyelowo, Hermione Norris and Miranda Raison to name a few), one can definitely hold out hope that Matthew Macfadyen will reprise his role as Tom Quinn with maybe even a return of Keeley Hawes as Zoe Reynolds. She did, after all, only have to go to Chile to avoid prison time. Unfortunately, no release date set as of yet for theaters in the U.S. so let’s hope it finds a welcome home on public television stations soon.

Goodnight, Teddington: Iconic British comedy studio set for demolition

November 18, 2014

In the ‘let’s tear things down that have a history attached to it and build something that will make a lot more money’ era that we all seem to live in, it was bound to happen, unfortunately. Following on the heels of the recent closure of BBC Television Centre, Teddington Studios, the home for years to Thames Television and where much of the magic happened during Britain’s Golden Age of comedy and drama seen by generations of television viewers, is set for demolition in the not-too-distant future. When Granville locks up for the last time during filming of Still Open All Hours, “the end of comedy history” will be upon us when the studios close forever. All you have to do is walk past the front of the building to understand its’ place in the world of Britain’s comedy history and see it covered with blue plaques commemorating the comedy legends who worked there, including comedians Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper and Only Fools And Horses writer John Sullivan. More recent generations of comedy lovers will see it as the place that Ricky Gervais filmed The Office.

The studios got their start as a film studio when stockbroker Henry Chinnery, owner of Weir House, Teddington, allowed filmmakers to use his greenhouse as a studio. Since then, Teddington Studios has had both a storied and checkered past that goes far beyond the world of British comedy. Errol Flynn began his film career as an extra at Teddington. The studios were rebuilt after a V1 flying bomb caused serious damage in July 1944, killing three staff. They were reopened in 1948 by Danny Kaye. One of Teddington’s first big variety shows was Sammy Davis Jr Meets The British in 1960 while probably the biggest night of all occurred in February 1964, fresh from a frenzied appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in America, the Beatles arrived by river for a Big Night Out show with Mike and Bernie Winters.

In 1992, following the departure of Thames, Teddington went independent and has been, most recently, run by Michael Grade’s Pinewood-Shepperton group, making shows for ITV, the BBC and Channel 4. Sadly, Pinewood’s lease ran out this year and once Granville closes Arkwright’s for the last time, it will get to know the wrecking ball up close and personal when it steps aside for a 213-flat development. Great. Just what we need….

The ultimate DIY: How to build your own Cybermen

November 17, 2014

Radio Times said it best – The Cybermen have had more upgrades than the iPhone. While the Daleks will forever go down in history as the most iconic and scariest challenge to the Doctor, the Cybermen will, undoubtedly, be the more interesting and most misunderstood. Created by Dr. Kit Pedler, the unofficial scientific advisor to Doctor Who, and Gerry Davis, former Doctor Who script editor, the Cybermen made their first appearance in William Hartnell’s final story, “The Tenth Planet”, in 1966.
The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet from 1966

The Cybermen were originally a wholly organic species of humanoids originating on Earth’s twin planet Mondas which had drifted out of the solar system rendering it both isolated and frozen given their distance from the sun. For sheer survival, they slowly began to implant more and more artificial parts into their bodies as a means of self-preservation. This led to the race becoming coldly logical, calculating and a bit zombie-like, with every emotion deleted from their minds so they could cope with their new look – hence their enigma of being both interesting and misunderstood all at the same time.

Fast forward 48 years and the latest model, a sleek Iron Man meets Transformers version, which was last seen in the Doctor Who series 8 finale, “Death in Heaven”. At a Royal Television Society event on Tuesday, Millennium FX, the company that produces prosthetics and monsters for the series, premiered some behind the scenes footage which features a detailed look at how a Cyberman is made. In addition, the video highlights some other radical, retro designs for some alternate Cybermen, along with a few pointers on how to build our own Cybermen. You won’t see this on Ask This Old House, trust me.

Benedict Cumberbatch – A to Z

November 16, 2014

With an Oscar caliber performance just around the corner in which he plays Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch is more than just a household name. He’s a fixture. Not only has the star of Sherlock dominated the small screen with award-winning performances in both the BBC/PBS 21st century adaptation of the world’s most famous consulting detective and as a military officer in HBO’s Parade’s End, the big screen (The Hobbit, 12 Years a Slave, War Horse, Tinker Tailor, Star Trek Into Darkness), the stage (Frankenstein) and radio where, for the 70th anniversary of Normandy landings during World War II, he read the original radio bulletins from June 1944 for BBC Radio 4, he has three films coming out between now and the end of the year. Aside from The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch can be ‘seen’ in The Penguins of Madagascar and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
The Imitation Game

As we prepare for a 2015 that will see the actor play Hamlet at London’s Barbican Theatre in the summer and then cap off the year with a new set of Sherlock episodes beginning somewhere in the neighborhood of December 2015 on BBC1 and PBS, there are rumors of the actor being linked to Marvel’s next superhero Doctor Strange and upcoming Iraq war drama The Yellow Birds, in which he’ll play a troubled sergeant in command of two young soldiers played by Will Poulter and Tye Sheridan.

If you’ve somehow missed the last four years and can’t quite put a face to the name, Benedict Cumberbatch, Digital Spy has put together a brilliant A to Z Benedict Cumberbatch primer that is pretty much the definitive guide to all-things you must know if you are going to catch up to the rest of Planet Earth before 2015. Here are a several of my personal favorites…

G is for Ghostbusters

Cumberbatch has named Ivan Reitman’s beloved ghost-com as his favorite comfort movie. If Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters comes to fruition, maybe Cumberbatch could play the male equivalent of Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett?

M is for Mr. Darcy
Benedict Cumberbatch is Mr. Darcy

Cumberbatch recently recreated Colin Firth’s iconic White Shirt In The Lake moment from Pride & Prejudice. The shot was in support of TK Maxx’s Give Up Clothes for Good campaign with Cancer Research UK, so this is basically a win-win: a very good thing that happened for a very good reason.

S is for Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch is Sherlock

Steven Spielberg has famously called Cumberbatch’s mercurial modern-day sleuth “the best on-screen Sherlock Holmes”. That will remain a controversial point, but whether you agree with Spielberg or not it’s significant that after just three episodes, Cumberbatch’s Holmes was being discussed in the same breath as Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone’s definitive takes.

Despite Cumberbatch’s seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory, he’s made it clear that he has no intention of abandoning the BBC drama for Hollywood. “I’ll keep doing it as long as Sherlock grows,” he said recently. “As long as I feel like he’s developing and there’s stuff we’re all being challenged by, and that it’s being loyal to the original stories.

Now, you’re not only ready to buy a ticket to see The Imitation Game, you’re a leg up on 2015 also! For a full Benedict Cumberbatch A-Z list, head over to Digital Spy.