Review By Eiphel
11/26/12 10:57 pm
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"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell."
The words which formed the very title of the first episode of the season prophesy the events of the last. The Fallen King of Britain is not only another tightly woven, multi-layered installment of this great season, but a denouement that ties together everything we've witnessed between the beginning and the end, and I can't think of a better statement of the conclusion it reaches than that quote.
Dorian, now one of the city bankers living things up in 2007 before the crash of the economy, has a luxury apartment in the top floor of a skyscraper. Almost all of this story takes place in that apartment, and particularly upon the balcony - And that's relevant, because it means the city of London is, literally, a backdrop to events. Dorian's world is physically present to observe, and those observations set the stage in the first part of the story. Dorian tells what his life is now, he protests his love for the twenty-first century. But he also reminisces, all the way back to his true youth, and everything in between. In the contrast we see a world that has lost all its sophistication. No more trappings of romanticism, lustre and beauty. His latest friend is hardly Oscar Wilde, and his yuppie parties bear little resemblance to the dinner parties he attended over a century prior. Much as Dorian determinedly praises this new age, one wonders if he protests too much.
The play subtly counterpoints talk of Dorian's portrait with characters gazing out over the city, and the similarity of the observations, when you spot it, is striking. This is the city as portrait, and it's a city which reflects Dorian more closely than ever. Last week's episode showed the eighties as an era when the modern world started to catch up with Dorian, with our protagonist deep in his element. This week continues that thread, but the twenty-first century reflects more than Dorian's superficial hedonism. Dorian can be seen as a character ahead of his time, suffering the same sort of dislocation and disenfranchisement as other, more mundane examples of such people. When the world finally draws level with him, what we see is no homecoming for Dorian however, but merely a world that has brought everyone else as low as him.
This is what I really took away from The Fallen King of Britain; that Dorian is no longer anyone special. That for all his unique nature, the place he has arrived at is a place myriads of other, mundane people arrive every day. There's no magic in the escape Dorian seeks, no arcane secret underlying that life - and Dorian doesn't realise it. That ignorance underlies Dorian's turmoil in the story, his paranoia and inability to make sense of what is happening. What really drove this home for me was the perspective embodied in the character of Simon. Viewing this story without the context of the wider series, without knowing Dorian's secrets, this story might just be the story of an ordinary man broken by the modern world. Charlie White who took some bad coke and lost his mind. Outside of Dorian's head, there is nothing else at work. It is only those Confessions of Dorian Gray which suggest anything more. Secrets shared only by Dorian and we the audience. When Dorian reflects that demons come in all shapes and sizes, one can't help but recall Oscar's epigram.
All of this leads to an exciting finale, proving you don't need galactic stakes to make for a dramatic conclusion. As the story reaches its end there's the unshakeable sensation that something has to give, and we can't know what that might be. Suffice to say, it fuels some sterling performance from Alexander Vlahos, culminating in a fantastic soliloquy that /demands/ a second season, that we might see how Dorian is changed.
Impeccably formed from start to finish, an exquisite character portrait itself, Confessions is one of the best productions I've ever heard, and The Fallen King of Britain provides it with a conclusion that wholly honours this exceptional work. 9/10.
Review By Eiphel
11/19/12 6:43 pm
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Confessions continues to demonstrate the tight vision and consistent quality that makes it such an excellent series with this release, though the Twittering of Sparrows is the most variable of the tales thus far. In some aspects it is the best of the run, with the best material for Dorian thus far, and performances that raise the bar even higher.
Yet whilst the Dorian-centric elements of Sparrows are the most exciting and intriguing we've yet been furnished with, this is the release which devotes the most plot focus to its supernatural story. It's the supernatural story that comes across a little oddly at times. Not poorly, just oddly. In tone it's more like straight fantasy than the prior stories and so it doesn't quite feel inkeeping with the tone of the series at a couple of moments. Still, it's pleasing to see the series drawing from wide-ranging inspirations for these elements, not falling into the trap of repeating the same basic gothic tropes again as could so easily be the case.
When the spotlight does fall upon Dorian, though, he gets his best material yet. Alexander Vlahos puts in a performance which is even better than previously - I am sure in no small part due to having such a great series of obstacles to face. His reunion with Isadora raises a whole slew of questions for Dorian - and furnishes us with some more answers - and he's forced to deal with his own history and the immediate mysteries of the presence at once. The ultimate dilemma he's presented with is an astonishingly powerful study of the character, with some great lines from Isadora, and I only wish there had been some space in the story between the conflict arising and the conclusion, so that Dorian's response could be further analysed. Due to the time-spanning format of the series, these events will be long past by the time of next week's episode, leaving this as the only chance to explore the impact of this week's events, so I only wish there was more time to do so. This may be the only major weakness with the series, and the bookend narration of each episode is obviously a partial solution to the issue.
On the subject of Isadora, Katy Manning is pitch perfect in this story. People familiar with her as Jo or Iris, or aware of her personality in interviews might have expected a larger-than-life character that would shake the series' framework. In fact Manning is wonderfully, soulfully understated in the role, demonstrating the great range of her skills. I also I enjoyed Wilf Scolding as Bellamy, and thought he evoked a wonderful warmth and caring between Bellamy and Isadora.
Regarding the Singaporean setting, it's becoming apparent that the places and times selected for these stories are not the focal point, but rather a springboard for a theme or metaphor that will underlie the story. The blitz itself was not a vital element last week, just as Singapore is not this week. But just as the blitz prompted the significant symbol of the burned out building in Houses, this week Singapore gives us Dorian's fascination du jour for explorers with unfortunate ends. In the end I think this is a better way to go for the series, rather than try and pick out every important event in history and somehow tie Dorian to it - I love the Flashman books, but this is a different kettle of fish - places and times of greater or lesser significance simply generate a taste of atmosphere that complements the tale that week. (It might be nice to have one story show Dorian directly tied to an event, as a one off, though.)
The Twittering of Sparrows, then, is the most variable story in what is nevertheless such a consistent range that it really marks no particular dip in quality - and indeed carries the highest quality performances yet heard in the series. A few strange notes hardly mar the overall story, making it another easy 8/10.
Review By Eiphel
11/3/12 4:27 pm
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After last week's episode I was definitely hooked, but there were elements of the series that couldn't be judged from a single episode. Who exactly Dorian was as a person, and how he would develop, for one. How the changing historical backdrop would be integrated for another. I was exceedingly eager to hear this one and start to piece that puzzle together.
Very sensibly, the second episode is largely focused on fleshing out the former issue. The Houses in Between is predicated on painting a solid picture of the person Dorian used to be, thus allowing us better understanding of who he is and where he is coming from in the continuing series. The series remains enshrouded in a palpable air of secrets and mystery - literally, the occult - and so of course it does not furnish us the answers to every detail of Dorian's past. Instead, just like the first episode, every expository detail also serves theme and plot, and so our understanding is filtered through the action of the moment. A smart approach that keeps everything fresh and relevant, as I remarked last week.
On that topic, I would say the Houses in Between is not quite as tightly woven as was This World. Going back to my opening comments, I was intrigued to see how the blitz background would feature in the tale. I don't feel like the time period needs to be a pivotal aspect of each episode, since that would create an era-of-the-week formulaic feel, but to my mind the blitz is a very prominent historical backdrop, and so I would have expected it to be quite predominant. It is certainly well evoked and by no means irrelevant, however I think it's the idea of a burned house that is really important to the play, rather than something more singularly related to the blitz.
With that said, it's still a great tale being told. There's one element I found a tad trite, but it did not heavily mar the story at all. The atmosphere remains richly gothic, and the story is still multi-layered, with lots of significant images and ideas lingering throughout. I feel that 'regret' may be a key theme of the series, and I wonder how much Dorian does regret... And why. Alexander Vlahos continues to fully inhabit the role, and even as we build a much clearer idea of Dorian's personality during one period of his life, Vlahos refuses to let his performance become easily nailed down. In every moment of darkness, he shows the strangest flashes of nobility - in moments of goodness, he calls his own nature into question. I was also pleased to see Dorian taking an extreme course of action at the end of the play - I think it stands to reason that when your life is set apart from any other person's in such a huge way, you would be destined to find yourself taking actions that no other person would ever be in a position to take.
The Houses in Between has assured me that the splendid opening episode was no fluke, and that this is a series being produced with a clear, smart vision. Every aspect is polished and on target; the music in this week's episode was beautiful and haunting. Houses is not quite as potent a package as This World Our Hell, but it's still excellent drama. 8/10.