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A first look at Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Imitation Game’.

September 3, 2014

THE IMITATION GAME with Benedict Cumberbatch staring as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII, is set to hit theaters in both the US and the UK this November. Following WWII, Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal at the time.
 

 
The film, which also stars Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, the English cryptanalyst who also worked as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during World War II, takes a close-up look at the race against time by Turing and his team of code-breakers at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) known as Bletchley Park, during the darkest days of World War II. The ‘team of code-breakers’ were comprised of a motley group of scholars, mathematicians, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers with a powerful ally in Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It was Churchill who authorized the provision of any resource they required.

The film spans the key periods of Turing’s life: his unhappy teenage years at boarding school; the triumph of his secret wartime work on the revolutionary electro-mechanical bombe that was capable of breaking 3,000 Enigma-generated naval codes a day; and the tragedy of his post-war decline following his conviction for gross indecency, a now-outdated criminal offence stemming from his admission of maintaining a homosexual relationship.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated” and, on 24 December, 2013, The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon.

Passing the time on the set of ‘Downton Abbey 5′

September 2, 2014

Being part of a mega-hit telly series is not all ‘lunch in LA, dinner in NY followed by theatre in the West End’, contrary to popular belief. Double-digit hour days are more the norm than the exception. In the case of Downton Abbey, filming a season’s batch of nine episodes takes about six months (March-August). No matter the series, cast and, sometimes, crew find very creative ways to pass the time between takes courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.

Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) cites the popular English whodunit parlor game, Wink Murder, as just one of the methods used by the cast to pass the time during 11-hour days on set. “Playing Wink Murder — that helps at dining room table scenes,” says Michelle Dockery. Lady Mary goes on to burst everyone’s bubble in the glitz and glamor category’ by revealing another time-passing secret, “There’s also the movie game. Someone names a film and you name an actor in that film, and it passes on. It’s great fun when we’re all here together.”
 
Passing the time on set of Downton Abbey 5 with Kevin Doyle, Rob James-Collier and Jim Carter

While about a third of the series is filmed at Highclere, with the “downstairs” and bedroom scenes shot at London’s Ealing Studios, footmen Kevin Doyle and Rob James-Collier and butler Jim Carter arguably nave the longest hours of the cast, appearing in scenes upstairs with the Crawleys and downstairs with the staff. “At the moment, it’s just me here because my staff, Mrs. Hughes [Phyllis Logan], Mrs. Patmore [Lesley Nicol], Anna [Joanne Froggatt] and Daisy [Sophie McShera] all have days off,” jokes Carter.
 
Downton's Earl of Grantham a.k.a. Hugh Bonneville has a laugh at the Dowagers expense on the set of Downton Abbey 5

Downton crewmembers prep for another take in the Highclere dining room, as Hugh Bonneville has fun with a napkin as the expense of co-stars Dame Maggie Smith (center) and Laura Carmichael (right)
 
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While Dame Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern will sit quietly, playing the word game Bananagrams in the Highclere library to pass the time before “action” is called, Michelle Dockery takes the opportunity to return to the 21st Century for a few ‘what is going on in the world’ reality checks before having to return to the 1920′s.
 
Passing the time on the set of Downton Abbey 5 with Laura Carmichael and MIchelle Dockery

Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith) takes advantage of every ‘down’ moment on set by trying to take care of business. “I’m trying to order some flowers, but you can’t get a 3G signal in here!” laughs Carmichael, 27. Here, she longingly holds up her iPhone in Highclere’s lavish drawing room just praying for even a hit of two bars.

So, when you sit down to watch the premiere of Downton Abbey either on 21 Sept, 2014 in the UK or Jan 4, 2015 in the States, know that it’s not always all moonlit nights and a bed of roses for cast and crew as they film your favorite British period drama. It’s pretty much a case of hurry up and wait most of the time.

It’s ‘Countdown to Downton’ – Sept 21 in the UK

September 1, 2014

Next to the Thrilla in Manilla in 1975 which featured the third and final meeting between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, Planet Earth has not had a day like this that they have been waiting for for almost 40 years.

While America, unfortunately, still needs to tap the breaks and continue to keep their finger on the ‘pause’ button while they await the January 4, 2015 PBS premiere of series 5 of Downton Abbey, there is joy in UK Mudville now that ITV has announced the transmission date for the premiere. Let the countdown begin to 21 September 2014 – a day that will forever be known as Downton Day 2014. What should cause excitement across Downton Abbey Nation no matter where you hang your hat is the fact that with ITV’s announcement comes the release of their first trailer for the premiere!
 

 
As you can see, while Dame Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Hugh Bonneville, Joanne Froggatt, Elizabeth McGovern, Rob James-Collier, Brendan Coyle, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech, Lily James, Sophie Mcshera and Tom Cullen all return for series 5, there will also be a few welcome newcomers to Downton with the arrival of Richard E Grant and Anna Chancellor.

From the looks of things, series 5 will be drama, drama and…more drama. Al Jolson must not have been watching Downton Abbey when he spoke the first line that was ever ‘heard’ by the silent movie-going audience of the day which was “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet! otherwise, he would have definitely changed it to “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Looks like it’s going to be a good one. Must be the year of the fire what with Southfork burning on Dallas and all.

Daleks: the greatest evil of all-time or misunderstood cyborg?

August 31, 2014

Unfortunately for William Hartnell and Matt Smith and all Doctors in-between, Daleks have been perceived (by themselves, mostly) as the supreme race in the universe with the sole purpose of universal domination and extermination. Their desire to purge the Universe of all non-Dalek life has solidified their place in Time Lord history as the all-time greatest enemy of the Doctor. In 2010, readers of science fiction magazine SFX voted the Dalek as the all-time greatest monster, beating out competition that included the Japanese movie monster, Godzilla.

But, are they simply a misunderstood race of tank-like cyborgs who just happen to have had every emotion removed except hate? It’s doubtful that the newest Doctor, Peter Capaldi, will feel this way after last night’s second episode, “Into the Daleks”, but maybe if he could just see his greatest enemy outside of their element, he might change his mind. You decide…

Who are the Daleks, really?

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The Daleks sing Gilbert & Sullivan
 

 
A Dalek in Love
 

 
A Very Dalek Christmas
 

 
The Daleks – Come Fly With Me
 

 

The pre-Emmy winning early days with the boys of ‘Sherlock’

August 30, 2014

Following their recent Emmy wins for their brilliant performances in Sherlock, my guess is that there were more than a few folks on Planet Earth that wondered, even for the briefest of moments, how lucky both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were to win given this was their first role. How wrong they were. As most of the world knows, both are wildly successful and incredibly good at what they do. Their respective performances were the result of a number of years of study and practice.

For Martin Freeman, there were years of guest roles in series such as The Bill, Casualty and Black Books and countless TV and radio shows and theatre work. Freeman’s big break came in 2001 as Tim Cantebury in Ricky Gervais’ The Office. Following three series in sales for the Slough branch of the Wernham Hogg Paper Company, Freeman starred in Hardware, written and directed by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly), which followed the daily wisecrack battle between store staff and packs of DIY obsessed clients.

Martin Freeman in Hardware
 

 
Benedict Cumberbatch’s career path to his 2014 Emmy win has deep roots in regional theatre. Like his Sherlock co-star, his CV also features numerous guest roles on the small screen including Heartbeat, Spooks and Silent Witness and followed by signature roles that really brought to life his training as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art where he graduated with an MA in Classical Acting.

Roles like his critically-acclaimed 2004 performance as Steven Hawking in Hawking which focused on his early years as a PhD student at Cambridge University, followed his search for the beginning of time through his struggle against motor neuron disease. There was even a gap year where he volunteered as an English teacher at a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. Cumberbatch’s earliest series role came in 2003 opposite Hugh Laurie, Anna Chancellor and the Twelfth Doctor, himself, Peter Capaldi. The pre-House Laurie starred as a doctor facing a mid-life crisis with Cumberbatch as Rory, Laurie’s oldest son and student at the University of Reigate.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Fortysomething
 

 
For both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the rest, as they say, is history.

Behind the scenes at ‘Downton Abbey’ west, a.k.a. Ealing Studios

August 29, 2014

As members of Downton Abbey-Nation begin to make preparations for the start of series five (September in the UK, January 2015 in the States), there are those few that may not be aware that not all of what you see on the telly is actually filmed at Highclere Castle. For those that don’t necessarily want to know ‘how the sausage is made’ for fear of ruining the magic that is telly, do not click play on the video below. Ealing Studios, the television and film production company and facilities provider which is located approximately 60 miles from Highclere at Ealing Green in West London has been in the film and telly business since 1902, making it the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world.

Much of Downton Abbey‘s downstairs sets are built, filmed and housed at the Ealing soundstages including the servants’ quarters and attic bedrooms scenes which are shown on stages 3A and 3B. Here’s quick look at how the kitchen set is constructed…
 

 
Probably the best take on the distance between Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios and the continuity issues this causes comes from the brilliant minds of Red Nose Day that stars Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Harry Enfield and Victoria Wood.
 

 
So, whether you watch in September or January think about how difficult it is for poor Thomas who might be filmed leaving the kitchen with a plate of food for upstairs and would then appear two weeks later in the dining room.

A ‘League of Gentlemen’ 20th reunion in the making?

August 28, 2014

There is no explanation that would do justice to The League of Gentlemen, which was made up from the combined twisted mind palaces of Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Jeremy Dyson and Reece Shearsmith. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years since we have visited the home of Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup in the sleepy little town of Royston Vasey, the setting for the brilliant but darkest of dark comedies, The League of Gentlemen. That said, it’s probably a good thing that Papa Lazarou has not crossed our paths for that length of time.
 

 
While portions of the group have found ways to collaborate over the years beginning with Shearsmith and Pemberton’s brilliant Psychoville series (who needs Krusty the Klown when you have Mr. Jelly) and their recent collaboration of the anthology series Inside No.9 and then Shearsmith, Pemberton and Mark Gatiss appearing in the children’s sketch comedy show Horrible Histories, this would be the first attempt to ‘get the band back together’ given the extremely busy schedules of the three above plus off-screen writing partner Jeremy Dyson.

Speaking with the Radio Times, Shearsmith wasn’t promising a return to Royston Vasey but did say that a creative collaboration is in the works so one can always hold out hope for maybe a short detour to Ravenhill Hospital?

Alastair Bruce in ‘The Manners of Downton Abbey’ on PBS

August 27, 2014

When one thinks of Downton Abbey, the names of Julian Fellowes, Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery immediately come to mind. Right up there are the likes of Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter. Probably the one with the least visibility who should get much of the credit for making Downton Abbey as it appears on your home telly is the series historical adviser, Alastair Bruce.

Alastair Bruce on the set of Downton AbbeyWhile you may not be familiar with the name Alastair Bruce, you see his work every moment that Downton is on the air and, sometimes, you even see him as a ‘supporting artist’. In the first series, in 2010, Bruce played a butler for the Dower House, where Dame Maggie Smith lives as the Dowager Countess of Grantham. In the second series, Bruce was in the car beside the General visiting Downton Abbey during the First World War and then returned as a guest for the Downton shoot in that year’s Christmas Special. For series 3, in the Christmas special shot at Inveraray Castle in Scotland, Bruce was disguised with an incredibly itchy beard and acted as the river ghillie and stalker for the Duneagle Estate. And, in last year’s Christmas special, Bruce played the Lord Chamberlain to King George V in the scenes where Lady Rose is presented at Court.

As the individual that is in charge of both historical accuracy and etiquette on Downton Abbey, Bruce’s primary purpose is to make sure every period detail is correct, which means such things as being able to advise on the minutiae of early 20th century protocol, in such subjects as dress, posture, the serving of food and even on matters that might initially appear trivial, such as the use of vocabulary or the correct way to walk out of a car. It also should not be overlooked that every time the Downton Abbey credits roll, those are Alastair Bruce’s hands holding the ruler over the knives and forks on the table! How great is that!
 

 
Viewers can get an up close and personal look at the painstaking work of Alastair Bruce on the set of Downton Abbey when The Manners of Downton Abbey comes to PBS’ Masterpiece series on Sunday, January 4, 2015 at 8pET / 7pCT immediately preceding the season 5 premiere of that little drama series, we call, Downton Abbey. Set. DVR. Now.

It’s a ‘Sherlock’ sweep at the 2014 Emmys…almost.

August 26, 2014

The 2014 Emmy Awards have come and gone with British entries more than holding their own for nominations and winners. Most of the categories from a British standpoint were dominated with twelve nominations apiece by the usual suspects involved both in front of and behind the camera with Downton Abbey and Sherlock. Especially in the drama arena, this years Emmy’s really solidified the thought that the heavyweights of good American television are primarily from the cable side of the spectrum. Both UK imports were up against formidable cable competition such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, True Detective, Homeland, House of Cards, Fargo and Game of Thrones.
 
Benedict_Cumberbatch_and_Martin_Freeman_go_head_to_head_as_Brits_dominate_Emmys_nominations

Before we get to the ones that will, no doubt, say it’s an honor to just be nominated, the big winner of the evening was from a British perspective was Sherlock, who will try to get three Emmys through security at LAX on their way back to the UK. Tonight’s very deserved winners were:

Outstanding Writing in a TV Miniseries or Movie
- Steven Moffat (Sherlock)

Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie
- Martin Freeman (Sherlock: His Last Vow)

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
- Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock: His Last Vow)

Others East of the Atlantic that were nominated included Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dancing on the Edge), Idris Elba (Luther), Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Maggie Smith and Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, Helena Bonham Carter (Burton And Taylor) and Minnie Driver (Return to Zero).

In the earlier “Creative Arts Emmys”, Sherlock editor, Yan Miles won for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Mini-series or Movie while Magi Vaughan and Adam James Phillips won the Emmy for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera series for their work on Downton Abbey. In more Sherlock news, the Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Mini-series, Movie or Special went to Doug Sinclair, Stuart McCowan, John Joyce, Paul McFadden, William Everett and Sue Harding while the Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for a Mini-series, Movie or Special (Original Dramatic Score) went to David Arnold and Michael Price and, finally, Sherlock Director of Photography, Neville Kidd, won for Outstanding Cinematography for a Mini-series or Movie.

Congratulations to all nominees and winners. Can’t wait for December 2015 for the next installment of the Emmy award winning series, Sherlock!

P.S. In non-British television news but still Emmy-related, I’m not sure Breaking Bad deserved to win tonight. Seemed more of a lifetime achievement award for the series that concluded last year and all those involved. Both True Detective and star, Matthew McConaughey, were much more deserving, IMHO.

Sue Johnston to trade the Royle’s for the Crawley’s in Downton Abbey 5

August 25, 2014

In a bit of a different role than viewers are used to seeing her in, Sue Johnston trades in her matriarch status in The Royle Family and Coronation Street for the role of Denker, lady’s maid to Dame Maggie Smith’s Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the just-around-the-corner series 5 premiere of Downton Abbey. In her new role, the 70-year-old actress will mercifully take over from poor Mr. Molesley, who had the unfortunate task of looking after Lady Grantham in the absence of a maid in series 4.
 
The Royle Family's Sue Johnston joins the cast of Downton Abbey for series 5

The former Waking the Dead star will not be alone when it comes to new inhabitants of Downton. Johnston will also be joined by Richard E. Grant and Anna Chancellor in the upcoming trials and tribulations of the Crawley family. Chancellor, known for her roles in Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Hour and Fortysomething, will play the Dowager Lady Anstruther while Grant will leave Minty behind and attempt to dial up his best Simon Marchmont when he joins Downton as house guest, Simon Bricker. Series five will also feature 24 star, Rade Sherbedgia, as a Russian refugee who has fled the revolution after World War 1.

While American audiences will have to wait just a bit to see if the Dowager Countess has met her acerbic match in Denker given the PBS broadcast has been set for some time with a Sunday, January 4, 2015 premiere, the rumor is the new series of Downton Abbey will hit UK telly’s this Autumn on Sunday, 14 September.

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