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Wallander to return for fourth and final series

February 16, 2014

Wallander, the police procedural drama series adapted from Swedish novelist Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh will return, most likely, to BBC One and PBS in 2015. That’s the brilliant news. The bad news is that the fourth series will be the last according to Branagh.

The three episode fourth series will consist of an adaptation of “The White Lioness” and a two-episode adaptation of Mankell’s final Wallander novel, “The Troubled Man”. Ronan Bennett, writer of the Johnny Depp gangster film Public Enemies, is on board to write at least the final two episodes with the writer of the first episode yet to be confirmed. Interestingly, “The White Lioness”, which is set in South Africa, has not been adapted for any of the Wallander series. Filming is planned to take place in the summer of 2014.

There is a shining light at the end of the tunnel, however, as Branagh admitted back in 2012 that he is open to making a fifth series of Wallander if Swedish novelist Mankell were to write more books in the future. Hope came in the form of a quote from Branagh himself, who told Digital Spy, “Henning Mankell had said recently that he enjoyed the series so much that it made him want to write some more books. I feel our series has particularly taken its DNA from these novels. So if there are more of those, I’m sure we might think about it.

I feel a bit like rationalizing this bit of hope like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber when talking with Mary Swanson.

Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?

Mary: Not good.

Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?

Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.

Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

RIchard E. Grant to join cast of ‘Downton Abbey’ for series 5

February 15, 2014

As series 4 of Downton Abbey begins to wind down in the U.S., filming for series 5 is in full-swing in the UK. Targeted for broadcast this Autumn on ITV in the UK and, most likely, January 2015 on PBS in America, the forthcoming series will see several new faces as did series 4. For series 5, the new faces translate to some very familiar names in the book of Who’s Who in British Telly.
Downton Abbey adds Richard E. Grant, Anna Chancellor and Rade Sherbedgia fro series 5

Added to the cast for the next set of episodes in the world of Downton will be Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park, Withnail and I, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Anna Chancellor (Fleming, The Hour, Spooks, Fortysomething) and Rade Sherbedgia (Snatch, Taken 2). For the 5th series, which will again be comprised of eight episodes and a Christmas 2014 special, Grant will star as Downton guest Simon Bricker, Chancellor will play Lady Anstruther and Sherbedgia will play Russian refugee Kuragin, who flees the Russian revolution after WWI. In addition, Dame Harriet Walter will return as Lady Shackleton, along with Peter Egan as Lord Flintshire (a.k.a Shrimpie).

If you enjoy the brilliance that is Richard E. Grant, check out the series, Hotel Secrets with Richard E. Grant, which will be airing on a number of public television stations this Spring. Grant gives equal time to both the incredible luxury and the scandalous history of some of the world’s best hotels including the George V in Paris, the Four Seasons in New York, the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Savoy in London.

Check it out while waiting for Downton Abbey 5!

It’s MUST SEE TV tonight on PBS! ‘National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage’

February 14, 2014

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than to celebrate the incredible talent that has graced the stage of London’s National Theatre for the last 50 years. The National Theatre opened its doors in 1963 with Laurence Olivier as its first director. Eight hundred productions later, the venerable institution celebrates its 50th anniversary with a star-studded cast of theater legends all with one goal – to celebrate the remarkable people and plays that have made the NT stage one of the most cherished and creative outlets of international theater: from premieres of plays by Tom Stoppard, Peter Shaffer, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett and David Hare, to outstanding revivals of classic plays and musicals.

Back in November 2013, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, James Cordon, Christopher Eccleston, Andrew Scott and Penelope Wilton, just to name a few, gathered on stage to celebrate the National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage. Airing tonight at 9/8c on PBS, the two-hour retrospective features both live performance from November and rare glimpses from the archive, featuring many of the most celebrated actors who have performed on the National Theatre stages over the past five decades and directed by Nicholas Hytner.

The program was in rehearsal for over 5 weeks with over 100 actors participating in some 25 productions including Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The History Boys, The Mysteries, Angels in America, Guys and Dolls and London Road.

This is a not-to-be-missed broadcast. If nothing else, for the opportunity to see Benedict Cumberbatch reading from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and then The History Boys with Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi.

Inspector Lewis to return with new episodes!

February 13, 2014

Normally, when someone retires, it’s time.  In the case of Lewis, there isn’t a mystery fan anywhere that thought it was time when Inspector Robert ‘Robbie’ Lewis ‘retired’ after seven series. That’s why the news out of ITV yesterday was more than welcome news.
Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox return in Lewis

Detective Inspector Lewis and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway are coming back. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox are set to reprise their roles as the ‘perfect’ detective team solving murders against the backdrop of the beautiful university spires of Oxford when Lewis returns in 2014.

With Lewis’s instinct for tracking murderers and unraveling motives and with Cambridge graduate James Hathaway’s deep thinking and erudite approach which has served their partnership so well in the past, one can’t help but clear out some space on the DVR for the new episodes.

While the news out of ITV is brilliant, things have changed just a bit since we last left the duo. After an extended break from the Police, Hathaway has been promoted to Inspector. When the chemistry that was so much a part of his relationship with Lewis eludes Hathaway, a retired Lewis is drafted back to renew their partnership. It will be interesting to see how both Lewis and Hathaway will come to grips with their new found dynamic in order to achieve results.

Returning with Whately and Fox will be Clare Holman, who was introduced to viewers as forensic pathologist Laura Hobson in the 1995 Morse film, “The Way through the Woods”, and has continued to appear in Lewis. Rebecca Front will also return to the series as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent who is frequently at odds with Lewis over his investigative style.

Chris Burt who has been at the helm for 30 episodes of Lewis since the series first screened in 2006 will produce the new series with Nick Renton (Lewis, Inspector George Gently, Silent Witness) set to direct the first two-part film, ‘Entry Wounds’ which goes into production next month.

While I don’t normally like seeing people coming out of retirement (i.e. Brett Favre), this is brilliant news.

Blandings returns to BBC One Sunday; Public television soon.

February 12, 2014

While PBS viewers in America still have two weeks left in the current series of Downton Abbey, UK viewers within the transmission signal of BBC One can look forward to the return of Blandings which is headed your way this coming Sunday, 16 February. While UK viewers will no-doubt remember, the series tells the story of the ninth earl and master of Blandings Castle, Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall), who resides at the castle along with his imperious sister Connie (Jennifer Saunders), his empty-headed son Freddie (Jack Farthing), and any number of houseguests.
Blandings, starring Jennifer Saunders and Timothy Spall. Image credit -  Mammoth Screen

Lord Emsworth would rather be left in peace with his prize pig The Empress of Blandings, but his family are always at hand to complicate his life. Always there to offer a reluctant helping hand is the loyal and long-suffering butler, Beach, played by Mark Williams (Father Brown) in series 1 and by Tim Vine, who takes over the role of Beach the Butler in series 2.

Based on the writings of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings stories, the new series will see a number of guest stars including Harry Enfield (Men Behaving Badly) as The Duke of Dunstable, the most obnoxious man in England, who is committed to having Lord Emsworth committed; Celia Imrie (After You’ve Gone, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bridget Jones’s Diary), Clarence and Connie’s censorious elder sister, whose job is to make everybody’s life miserable; Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing, The Hour, Touch of Cloth) as Galahad ‘Gally’ Threepwood, Clarence’s incorrigible younger brother, who intends to publish a fantastically indiscreet memoir that will disgrace the family and James Fleet (Vicar of Dibley) as Colonel Fanshawe. Let’s not forget the visiting Hollywood film crew either…

Before series 1, Timothy Spall had a spot on description of Blandings when he said, “Downton Abbey is Downton Abbey. This is like Downton Abbey on some kind of early cocaine“.

Spall went on to say, “This incredibly dysfunctional aristocratic family are basically a bunch of lunatics who still behave the way they did when they were children…”. Series 2 of Blandings premieres Sunday, 16 February on BBC One. Look for the first series to premiere on public television stations in the States in the Spring of 2014.

For those just jumping on the Blandings bandwagon, I think this proves Spall’s point quite well.


Hugh Bonneville is Top Gear’s Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car

February 11, 2014

The season premiere of Top Gear has come and gone. Airing earlier this month on BBC Two and last night on BBC America, the series opened its 21st season with Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, as the shows Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car.
Hugh Bonneville as Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car

For those few that have not seen and/or heard of the series for the past twenty years, the ‘Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car’ segment of Top Gear, has presenter Jeremy Clarkson interviewing a celebrity and then showing a clip of their attempt to drive round the Top Gear track, which was filmed earlier. They are then put on the leader board either to their delight or humiliation. Over the years, there have been four ‘reasonably-priced-cars’ – a Suzuki Liana, Chevrolet Lacetti, Kia Cee’d, and the newest member of the team, the Vauxhall Astra.

Seated in his Vauxhall Astra, which was introduced as the newest reasonably priced car in 2013, Bonneville didn’t show much confidence at the possibility of besting the top time of 1:45:1 by Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC”, saying: “I’m fairly cautious, I’m not very adventurous and I’m rubbish at parking. Luckily, there isn’t a parking segment to this program.

Bonneville finished with a time of 1:50:1 for his best lap time. In Lord Grantham’s defense, the track was incredibly wet and when you think about it, if you watch Downton Abbey, he has a driver so it’s pretty impossible to think he could have topped the board given his time behind the wheel is minimal. The current leader board for the Vauxhall Astra looks like this…

  1. 1:45.1 – Brian Johnson
  2. 1:45.6 – Jimmy Carr
  3. 1:46.1 – Hugh Jackman
  4. 1:46.7 – David Haye
  5. 1:46.8 – Warwick Davis
  6. 1.47.8 – Benedict Cumberbatch
  7. 1:48.5 – Rachel Riley
  8. 1:48.8 – Charles Dance
  9. 1:48.9 – Joss Stone
  10. 1:49.9 – Tom Hiddleston (very wet)
  11. 1:49.9 – Ron Howard
  12. 1:50.1 – Hugh Bonneville (wet)
  13. 1:51.0 – Steven Tyler
  14. 1:51.5 – Mike Rutherford

Liverpool, The Beatles and the Night that Changed America

February 9, 2014

Let’s just say that it took something of this magnitude to pry me away from Sunday’s installment of Downton Abbey. All I can say is, thank goodness for the DVR. Even Mrs. Patmore would approve of this new invention.

Watching The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute last night brought back a lot of memories from February 9, 1964. It was 50 years ago to the day, date and time that the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The night turned into one of the most-watched television events in history with over 74 million people tuning in to watch the Fab Four perform five songs during the variety hour.

Besides the memories of 1964, it gave me a greater appreciation of a trip to Liverpool in 2012 for the annual BBC Showcase. First thing on the agenda before the week-long screening of BBC programming began was a mandatory Beatles tour. The Fab Four Beatles Tour lasted just shy of four hours. There is nothing better than taking a black cab tour of Liverpool getting an up close and personal look at where John, Paul, George and Ringo crossed paths, grew up and, ultimately, changed music history. To actually see the likes of Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Eleanor Rigby’s grave, the hall at the St. Peters Church where John and Paul met for the first time in 1957 and the boyhood homes of John, Paul, George and Ringo was nothing short of brilliant.

Penny Lane
Penny Lane

Strawberry Fields gate
Strawberry Fields gate

Eleanor Rigby’s grave site
Eleanor Rigby

John Lennon boyhood home
John Lennon boyhood home

Paul McCartney boyhood home
Paul McCartney home

George Harrison boyhood home
George Harrison house

As we prepare to head to Liverpool in a couple of weeks for the 2014 BBC Showcase, I will definitely remember 1964 and ‘the night that changed America’ and just may take that tour again.

Touring the set of ‘Mr. Selfridge’

February 9, 2014

With PBS set to re-open the doors of Mr. Selfridge in a matter of weeks (March 30 at 9pET/8pCT, to be exact), a lot was made leading up to the 2013 premiere with regards to the set that was constructed for the filming of the interior of Selfridges. For obvious reasons, the real Selfridges couldn’t be used from a production standpoint so a full replica of the Oxford Street store interior was built just north of London. One can only imagine the sheer magnitude of the replica set.

The real Selfridges opened in 1909. The steel-framed structure, designed by the architect Daniel Burnham (who also designed the Flatiron Building in New York) was five stories high with three basement levels, a roof terrace (used for everything from fashion shows to an all-girl gun club) – and over 100 departments.

Grant Bridgeman, the sound recordist for Mr. Selfridge described the massiveness of the set by saying, “…the whole of the interior of the Selfridges shop was one massive space that had chameleon-like qualities to change to different floors, or different departments – also the interior of the Selfridges House was a great multilevel build.

The set immediately caught the eye (and attention) of Jeremy Piven who plays Harry Gordon Selfridge. “The attention to detail is beautiful. And yet they also built it for a range of movement with the camera. So it’s genius the way they do it. You can stick a crane in there and get a real sense of the multiple floors. It’s just a real playground.

Mr. Selfridge returns to PBS’ Masterpiece line-up beginning Sunday, March 30. New to the Mr Selfridge team for the second series is production designer, Sonja Klaus. Executive Producer, Kate Lewis, said, ”Sonja was Ridley Scott’s set dresser for many years and her attention to detail and design is phenomenal. In collaboration with our lead director, Anthony Byrne, Sonja has made the store an even more lush and exciting place to be, as it would have been in 1914 because Harry Selfridge himself was developing his business.”

She added, “We also have new exterior locations and will see the back of the building for the first time, giving a broader sense of its scale. It’s as if the shop floor is the stage and then you see behind the scenes and how the show comes together.

Downton Abbey – The Board Game

February 8, 2014

Coming to the realization that, after tomorrow, there will be only 2 weeks left in the current series of Downton Abbey, one must be brave and turn their attention to just how will we cope until the, most likely, September 2014 return in the UK and January 2015 return on PBS. What may soften the blow is a new board game that transports you into the world of Downton Abbey from Destination Games.
Downton Abbey - The Board Game

Looking eerily like Monopoly (or Clue), you start life at Downton as maid or footman (Mr. Molesley would be so upset), with the charge of completing the tasks you are given as quickly and efficiently as possible. Starting in the Servants’ Hall, each player is dealt Destination cards which have varying values indicated by the number of bells on the card. This relates to how important or difficult the task is. The player must then navigate their way around the corridors and stairs of the Abbey, throwing the dice to determine how many moves they can make. Once they reach the destination of a task, they collect their bell tokens, and the next player throws the dice to set off for the next job.
Downton Abbey looking like Monopoly

Along the way, a player can land on a ‘Carson Card’ space and have to take a card, which could either help or hinder them. On other spaces, the players may have to collect a ‘Letter’ which could call them away from the Abbey, slowing them down, or costing them bells! But, which route will you take? A short easy looking one to get a job done earning only one bell, or a longer route with the possibility of collecting a higher reward? The winner is the player who has completed all their jobs and collected the most bells.
Toy Fair 2014, London, Britain - 21 Jan 2014

While you may encounter Thomas along the way, at least you can be assured that Colonel Mustard won’t be in the library holding a candlestick. And, before you know it, it will be time for Downton Abbey 4 and everyone will be a winner…

‘Sherlock 4′ may have a 2016 time stamp on it

February 6, 2014

***Caution: Sherlock 3 spoilers ahead***

It’s been a whirlwind month both in the UK and America. What fans of brilliant telly (im)patiently waited two years for is now over. What took a mere 12 days to play out on BBC One was stretched to a lengthy 14 days on PBS. Sherlock 3 is done. It’s like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch. It’s no more. It has ceased to be. While it will live forever on DVD’s and on peoples DVR’s, it has gone to meet the choir invisible.

Unlike the parrot, however, it’s just resting. There will be a Sherlock 4. When it will awaken, no one knows at this point. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the particulars in front of and behind the camera are not only brilliant at what they do, they are in high demand. One needs to look no further than the names of Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to understand why it took two years between series 2 and series 3 to produce the telly gold we all witnessed at the beginning of January.

Sherlock and Moriarty together again in Sherlock 4?

Even if the reports are true that both Moffat and Gatiss have begun to not only plan series 4 but to have also plotted out a series 5 storyline, there is an overwhelming amount of pre-production that needs to take place and schedules to work out. With everyone’s endless dedication to quality, we could be looking at early 2016 before we see how Sherlock will handle Moriarty after returning from his 6-month exile to Eastern Europe which actually lasted about 4 minutes.

In reality, each Sherlock episode is like a mini-movie. This isn’t your average bit of television even though it’s on the small screen. These are feature quality. Imagine trying to do three James Bond films in two years. Will never happen. That’s why, as hard as it will be to admit, I understand that it may be early 2016 before we see the next installment of Sherlock. Besides the logistical issues that exist, the schedules of both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are just north of crazy. Freeman is set to star in FX’s forthcoming series, Fargo and Cumberbatch is rumored to be a possibility for a part in a very time-intensive Star Wars: Episode 7 production. As great as that would be, it would only drive a nail in any possibility of a 2015 return of Sherlock.

Moffat is now knee-deep in the first season of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and, thankfully, has always said they would never sacrifice quality to get the show out quicker. In lieu of new episodes, fans will just have to be satisfied with periodic events such as the recent Meet the Filmmakers event at the London Apple Store on Regent Street. Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington did not disappoint. I think I’m ok with this. How about you?


To listen to the podcast of the Meet the Filmmakers event in London, click here.