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BBC to adapt Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends

Conversations With Friends

Story by Jack Foley

THE BBC is to adapt Sally Rooney’s critically-acclaimed novel Conversations With Friends.

The lead director will be Oscar-nominated Irish film director Lenny Abrahamson and the show will be produced for BBC Three.

Conversations With Friends is Sally’s 2017 debut novel. It is a sharply intelligent story set in Dublin about two college students Frances and Bobbi, and the strange, unexpected connection they forge with a married couple, Melissa and Nick.

This adaptation follows the BBC’s prior adaptation of Sally’s award-winning 2018 novel Normal People, which will premiere in the UK this Spring on BBC Three and BBC One.

Following her work on Normal People, Alice Birch will be returning to write a number of episodes of Conversations With Friends, with further writers to be announced.

Normal People was also directed by Lenny Abrahamson, along with Hettie McDonald, and produced by Element Pictures. It was made in partnership with Hulu.

Rooney commented: “I am so pleased to be working with the team at Element, Lenny Abrahamson and the BBC to produce an adaptation of Conversations With Friends. I’m confident we’re going to find fresh and interesting ways of dramatising the novel’s dynamics, and I’m excited to watch the process take shape‎.”

Abrahamson added: “I love Conversations With Friends, its depth, humour and freshness, and it’s an honour to be involved in bringing it to the screen. I’m particularly happy that my connection to Sally and her work is set to continue. Making Normal People has been a singular pleasure and I’m excited to be working with the same brilliant team again on Conversations With Friends.”

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, said: “We are all addicted to Sally Rooney’s writing and will plunder her literary canon as long as she is writing. And so, on the back of the taut and tangled Normal People we are delighted that Sally has entrusted us, and the wonderfully talented people at Element Pictures, with her debut novel Conversations With Friends.

“To top it all, Lenny Abrahamson has agreed to continue his association with Sally to direct.”

Filming dates and casting will be announced in due course.

Hunters (Al Pacino/Logan Lerman) - First episode review

Hunters

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

AMAZON Prime’s high-profile new series Hunters boasts an intriguing premise, a top drawer cast headed by Al Pacino, and timely significance despite being set in the past. But it’s also – on the evidence of its first 90-minute episode – a savagely violent and borderline exploitative audience-baiting thriller that has already landed in hot water with high profile organisations.

The premise is part of the problem, focusing as it does on a team of Nazi hunters in 1970s America as they attempt to thwart the emergence of a Fourth Reich. The idea was inspired by the real-life Nazi hunters of the mid-20th century and Operation Paperclip, the US government’s covert recruitment after the war of around 1,600 German scientists, engineers and technicians – including many former Nazis – to try and give America the upper hand in the Cold War and the space race.

But the series as a whole has been quickly criticised by several Jewish groups for alleged bad taste and ‘Jewsploitation’ involving its depiction of fictional atrocities during the Holocaust.

One of the scenes, which takes place during the first episode, finds inmates at Auschwitz concentration camp being forced to kill each other while being used in a game of human chess. Another scene, also in the first episode, sees an elderly Jewish woman – now working for NASA – being locked into her own shower and gassed.

The first scene, in particular, prompted Karen Pollack, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, to complain to the BBC that such portrayals risked fuelling Holocaust denial. She insisted that “we have a real responsibility to protect the truth of the Holocaust”, which resulted in the death of six million Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe during the period from 1941-45.

For his part, series producer David Weil, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, insisted that Hunters never set out to be a documentary, adding that he decided to fictionalise events in the series because he did not want to misrepresent the suffering of real people.

He did not want to depict specific, real acts of trauma and believes dramatists should be able to tell stories about the Holocaust that are not documentary. It is something, after all, that countless dramas do, whether piggy-backing on world-changing events such as 9/11 or even – in Quentin Tarantino’s case – changing historical events for ‘cool’ dramatic effect. The Tarantino element of that sentence is particularly apt given that Hunters would seem to owe a debt of inspiration to the director in terms of its script and approach to violence.

For me, thus far, Hunters does have a troubling relationship to the Holocaust and its depiction of violence. It’s approach to blood-letting almost feels too casual. The camera lingers when it shouldn’t. While the decision to ‘make up’ atrocities and depict them on-screen feels somewhat perverse.

The chess scene is a case in point. It is first relayed verbally by Pacino’s character, Meyer Offerman. And by allowing an actor of Pacino’s stature to tell the story, it paints a vivid picture in its own right. Pacino’s delivery conveys the horror and its emotional effect without then having to see it. And there’s a strong case to be made that the scene should have been left there.

Instead, the decision to show it merely seems to be setting the stage for the violent killing of one of the chess game’s main perpetrators moments later, following another prolonged torture scene involving darts and a knife being plunged through the back of the victim’s neck and out through his throat.

There’s the suspicion that Weil is inviting audiences to revel in this violent act of revenge, much in the same way that Tarantino invited similar sentiments when altering history at the end of Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood with similarly blood-curdling events. It’s a form of blood lust that threatens to desensitise audiences towards the heinous acts of the Holocaust itself.

Where Hunters may yet excel, however, is in its exploration of the nature of revenge: if, indeed, it decides to take that route. Thus far, Pacino’s character has extolled its merits to Logan Lerman’s young recruit. But as Lerman ventures down this bloody path, might he yet begin to question whether the ends justify the means?

Hunters is also notable for its sense of period, invoking the spirit of 70s genre classics such as Marathon Man, which also dealt with Nazis in America.

While in Pacino, they have a master performer, whose every scene feels like one to savour. Sure, there’s an exaggerated Jewish accent to overcome; but Pacino is on Devil’s Advocate-style form; slyly playful and unnervingly dangerous. For sure, he’s on the side of good this time around; but just how good can good remain when playing in the garden of such evil?

Conversely, this heightened style of theatrical performance by Pacino is mirrored in the depictions of the Nazi bad guys, as evidenced by the likes of Dylan Baker and Lena Olin. Their borderline pantomime portrayals of Nazi killers could yet undermine the show’s credibility, offering something too broad to be as chilling as it ought to be. Baker and Olin are capable of much more nuance than the script so far allows, opting for caricatured evil, where some shading might have made them even more sinister and plausible as devils hiding in plain sight.

Hence, while Hunters arrives with a lot of pedigree [including an executive producer in Get Out‘s Jordan Peele] and did enough in its first 90 minutes to keep us hooked, there’s a nagging suspicion that its overall impact could go either way.

Homeland: Season 8, Episode 2 (Catch and release) - Review

Homeland

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

FOR a programme that’s based around the use of intelligence, the second episode of Homeland‘s final season didn’t display much of it.

Both Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) found themselves in awkward situations, some of which repeated past scenarios [and mistakes] from previous seasons, and both of which strained credibility to the limit.

Saul was particularly prone to gaffe making on a grand scale. Determined to revive the peace talks between Afghanistan’s politicians and the Taliban, Saul travels to Peshawar, in Pakistan, in order to try and force the issue by meeting covertly with Haqqani [the Taliban leader, played by Numan Acar].

He has already secured the release of several Guantanamo prisoners as a gesture of goodwill, and enabled one of the POWs – a relative of Haqqani’s – to hand deliver a message advising of the potential sit-down.

But no sooner is Saul in position, then super sleuthing analyst Max (Maury Sterling, still embedded with troops in Afghanistan) informs him that there’s chatter that the ISI — Inter-Services Intelligence, aka Pakistan’s intelligence force — is descending on Peshawar for some unknown reason.

The initial suspicion from Saul’s security detail is that they might be there for Saul, to dress him down for acting behind Pakistan’s back. But then Saul realises there’s a much bigger stake in play: that Haqqani is the target in an attempt to sabotage the peace process.

As he runs to warn the approaching Haqqani convoy, shots ring out and vehicles explode. Saul is rushed into the hotel by his troops but is grabbed by hooded men. Has ISI got him too?

As it turns out, no. Saul has actually been grabbed by Haqqani, who has also figured out the trap that lay in waiting. Only, he feels it was the Americans [and Saul] who set it, rather than Pakistan. And he’s pissed, ending the episode by hitting Saul in the face with the butt of his rifle.

High drama aside, it requires a massive suspension of disbelief to allow these events to represent a credible scenario. Not only is Saul now national security advisor (a position that would undoubtedly keep him out of such imminent danger), but he’s also fallen captive while attempting to broker deals before. It’s a major character flaw to have the same fate befall the same person twice. Or to put it another way – once may be considered an accident; twice is just plain careless.

Saul has long positioned himself at the forefront of the Homeland intelligence community: the man with the brains to figure out the plays and strike the deals. Sure, his blindspot is Carrie and her unsuitability for most jobs [given her mental state]. But increasingly, Saul has cut a desperate figure, prone to huge lapses in judgement. Thus far, season eight has struggled to cast him in a favourable light and it would be a shame if this once great character failed to afford himself the memorable finish he arguably still deserves.

Carrie, too, suffered from poor strategic decisions, placing trust in all the wrong places. Her faith in Saul, for instance, seems woefully misplaced. While her inability to properly research a key piece of intelligence left on her desk (revealing the name of a potential asset in Samira Noori) also showed a careless disregard for protection or even self-preservation at a time when her credibility is being called into question.

Her mission was also to secure the ongoing peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban by convincing leading politician Abdul Qadir G’ulom (Mohammad Bakri) to walk back his comments on the prisoners of war set to be released by the Afghans.

An initial attempt to force his hand without leverage proved fruitless, which meant the upper hand provided by Noori’s own intelligence [evidence of financial wrong-doing by G’ulom with US money] was invaluable.

The only trouble was where it came from. And as the final moments of the episode revealed, the source was Carrie’s Russian tormentor Yevgeny, who unveiled his hand in the scheme in a bar where Carrie had gone to celebrate. Appalled as Carrie was [and confused], Yevgeny told her ‘don’t play dumb’ when she asked him why… meaning that the play was designed to further the suspicion surrounding Carrie’s involvement with the Russians. Has she been turned, as the evidence found during the first episode of this season suggested?

Either way, the final scenario was one that could have been avoided with a little more care taken by the principal players involved. It leaves both Carrie and Saul severely compromised and Homeland‘s overall credibility hanging precariously in the balance.

Fortunately, there is still plenty of time [10 more episodes] to set things straight.

Read our verdict on the previous episode

Friends reunion special officially on at HBO Max

Friends

Story by Jack Foley

A ONE-off Friends special is officially a go at HBO Max.

The one-off special will represent an unscripted reunion for stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, as well as series creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman.

It will be filmed on Stage 24 of the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, where the entire original series was filmed. Ben Winston will direct and executive produce alongside former Friends alums Kevin Bright, Kauffman and Crane.

Matthew Perry first confirmed the news by posting a picture of the cast in their 90s heyday with the caption: “It’s happening.” This was swiftly followed by posts from his other cast members.

Kevin Reilly, chief content officer at HBO Max and president, TBS, TNT and truTV, then added: “Guess you could call this the one where they all got back together – we are reuniting with David, Jennifer, Courteney, Matt, Lisa and Matthew for an HBO Max special that will be programmed alongside the entire Friends library.

“I became aware of Friends when it was in the very early stages of development and then had the opportunity to work on the series many years later and have delighted in seeing it catch on with viewers generation after generation.

“It taps into an era when friends — and audiences — gathered together in real time and we think this reunion special will capture that spirit, uniting original and new fans.”

The one-off special will make its debut on WarnerMedia-backed HBO Max when that $15 monthly subscription platform launches at a date to be determined in May 2020. At the same time, the entire library of Friends will be available on HBO Max to coincide with the launch.

According to various sources, each cast member will earn more than double their former per-episode fee for the reunion and be paid between $2.5 million and $3 million for the special. That equals roughly £1.9 million.

The reunion is particularly resonant given that Friends is currently in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Friends aired from 1994 until 2004. The final show was watched by 52.5 million viewers in the US, making it the most watched TV episode of the 2000s.

The show has since picked up legions of younger fans through Netflix. It was the UK’s favourite streaming show and Netflix’s second most popular show in the US in 2018.

Kristofer Hivju joins The Witcher: Season 2

Kristofer Hivju

Story by Jack Foley

GAME of Thrones stalwart Kristofer Hivju has joined the second season of Netflix’s fantasy series The Witcher.

The actor, who played fan favourite Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones, is one of seven additions to the cast for season two, which is in production with Henry Cavill reprising his role in the lead.

Hivju will play Nivellen, who in the Witcher books, is described as a man cursed to take on the appearance of a monster. When he meets Geralt (Cavill), however, the witcher realizes Nivellen isn’t actually a monster because he’s not repelled by silver.

Other season two newcomers include Yasen Atour (Young Wallender) as Coen, Agnes Bjorn as Vereena, Paul Bullion (Peaky Blinders) as Lambert, Thue Ersted Rasmussen (Fast & Furious 9) as Eskel, Aisha Fabienne Ross (The Danish Girl) as Lydia and Mecia Simson as Francesca.

Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, showrunner of The Witcher, commented: “The reaction to season one of The Witcher set a high bar for adding new talent for the second season. Sophie Holland and her casting team have once again found the very best people to embody these characters, and in the hands of these accomplished directors, we’re excited to see these new stories come to life.”

Stephen Surjik (The Umbrella Academy), Sarah O’Gorman (Netflix’s Cursed), Ed Bazalgette (Doctor Who) and Geeta Patel (Superstore, Dead to Me) will each direct two episodes of the second season.

Also reprising their roles from the first season will be Anya Chalotra, Freya Allan and Joey Batey.

The Witcher was, according to Netflix, one of its top-performing series in the fourth quarter of 2019. It is set to return in 2021.

Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Joel Edgerton and Sean Penn for Gaslit TV series

Julia Roberts in Duplicity

Story by Jack Foley

JULIA Roberts, Armie Hammer, Sean Penn and Joel Edgerton have all been lined up to star in an adaptation of Slate podcast Slow Burn to TV.

Entitled Gaslit, the new series will offer a modern take on Watergate that will focus on the untold stories and forgotten characters of the scandal.

According to the logline, it will explore Nixon’s bumbling, opportunistic subordinates, the deranged zealots aiding and abetting their crimes and the tragic whistle-blowers who would eventually bring the whole enterprise crashing down.

Roberts will star as Martha Mitchell, a big personality with an even bigger mouth, who is a celebrity Arkansan socialite and wife to Nixon’s loyal Attorney General, John Mitchell. Despite her party affiliation, she’s the first person to publicly sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, causing both the Presidency and her personal life to unravel.

Penn will play John Mitchell. As Attorney General, Mitchell was Nixon’s most trusted adviser and best friend. Temperamental, foulmouthed and ruthless – yet hopelessly in love with his famously outspoken wife – he’ll be forced to choose between Martha and the president.

Hammer will play John Dean, a hotshot upstart and young White House Counsel, who finds himself torn between his ambition and his struggle with whether he can lie to protect the president.

And Joel Edgerton will portray G. Gordon Liddy, a Korean War veteran and former FBI agent, who was chief operative of Nixon’s ‘Plumbers’ unit, tasked with plugging embarrassing leaks in the wake of the Pentagon Papers. He’s the living embodiment of Machiavelli’s ‘the ends justify the means’, with the physique of an Olympian, the ideological zeal of a fanatic and the thick, bold mustache of a patriot.

The series hails from Mr Robot duo Sam Esmail and Robbie Pickering.

A network is not yet attached but the series will be shopped to premium cable networks (such as HBO) and streaming services by the NBC Universal-backed cable and streaming-focused studio, Universal Content Productions.

Roberts, who reunites with Esmail following season one of Amazon’s Homecoming, will also executive produce, while Edgerton and his brother, Nash Edgerton (Mr Inbetween), will direct and executive produce.

UCP president Dawn Olmstead commented: “We are so excited to announce our next collaboration with Sam as we prepare to bring Gaslit to market. Sam and Esmail Corp have introduced the world to some of the most talented creatives in front of and behind the camera, and this project with Robbie at the helm is the next in the lineage of outstanding series from this team. We are also thrilled to be partnering with Julia once again and welcome Sean, Armie, Joel and Nash to UCP.”

Esmail added: “Now more than ever, truth is absolutely stranger than fiction. When Robbie first told me about the Slow Burn podcast, I devoured it instantly. The second I finished it, I felt compelled to bring this story to television especially after watching the cowardice on display during the recent impeachment hearings.

“To help realize this important chapter in our country’s history, my first call was to the brilliant Julia Roberts. After her captivating performance in Homecoming, I knew Julia was the only person who could tackle the complex role of Martha Mitchell and lead our stellar cast in adapting this bizarre and controversial narrative.”

Westworld: Season 3 - Official trailer

Westworld Season 3

“I was born into this world, and my first memories of it are pain.” So says Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the artificial intelligence icon who broke free from the park confines of Westworld at the end of season two, as she attempts to navigate her new environment: our world.

And it’s that line which kick-starts the new official trailer for Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s science fiction series, which will return for its eagerly anticipated third season on March 15.

Aside from Wood, returning cast members include Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright, while newcomers include Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul.

Check out the trailer…

First-look photo of Chris Hemsworth in Extraction (Netflix)

Extraction

Story by Jack Foley

NETFLIX has released a first-look photo of Chris Hemsworth in new thriller Extraction.

Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) is a fearless black market mercenary with nothing left to lose when his skills are solicited to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord.

But in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible, forever altering the lives of Rake and the boy.

An action-packed, edge-of-your-seat thriller directed by Sam Hargrave, Extraction is an AGBO Films and TGIM Films, Inc. production, produced by Joe Russo, Anthony Russo, Mike Larocca, Chris Hemsworth, Eric Gitter and Peter Schwerin.

It also stars Rudraksh Jaisawl, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Pankaj Tripathi, Priyanshu Painyuli and David Harbour.

Extraction was shot on location in India and Thailand.

Extraction will launch on Netflix on April 24, 2020.

Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell to unite for The Shrink Next Door TV series

Ant-Man, Paul Rudd

Story by Jack Foley

PAUL Rudd and Will Ferrell are to star in and executive produce dark comedy limited TV series The Shrink Next Door.

Based on a podcast, which was inspired by true events, The Shrink Next Door follows the bizarre relationship between psychiatrist to the stars Dr Isaac ‘Ike’ Herschkopf (Rudd) and his long-time patient Martin ‘Marty’ Markowitz (Ferrell).

During the course of their relationship, the charming Ike slowly takes over Marty’s life, eventually moving into Marty’s home and taking over his family business.

The series will explore how a seemingly normal doctor-patient dynamic transforms into such an exploitative one, where manipulation, power grabs and dysfunction thrive in unprecedented fashion.

Michael Showalter, who previously worked with Rudd on the Wet Hot American Summer franchise, will direct and executive produce alongside writer Georgia Pritchett. The series will be shopped to premium cable networks (such as HBO) and streamers (like Netflix) by studio Media Rights Capital.

Rudd is fresh off of a Golden Globe nomination for season one of Netflix comedy Living With Yourself, on which he played twins. His other recent credits include Avengers: Endgame and the forthcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife, due July 10.

Ferrell, meanwhile, can shortly be seen in the Hollywood remake of Downhill alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The Shrink Next Door will mark his first TV series regular gig since Saturday Night Live, although he regularly executive produces with shows such as HBO breakout Succession and Netflix’s Dead To Me among his credits.

Cold Feet: Series 9 - Finale and series overview

Cold Feet, Series 9

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

GIVEN the hit-and-miss nature of the ninth season of Cold Feet it is perhaps little surprise that the show will now go on its second hiatus.

Speaking after the sixth and final episode of the season aired on Monday night, series creator Mike Bullen announced: ‘We feel we’ve explored to our satisfaction the issues confronting the characters at this stage of their lives and we want to give them all a little time to move on, to put clear water between the stories we’ve told thus far and the issues they’ll be exploring when they are empty-nesters staring down the barrel of grandparenthood. We’re looking forward to returning at a later date to document the agony and the ecstasy of the third age…”

In truth, the ninth season of Cold Feet had been showing signs of wear and tear. That’s not to say it was a complete misfire, but where season eight featured some of the best writing in the show’s history, season nine often felt lightweight by comparison – even with some weighty issues to deal with.

On the plus side, the ongoing storyline involving Jenny (Fay Ripley) and her breast cancer was treated sensitively throughout and even featured one outstanding moment, in the ninth season opener, in which she broke down and showed the true extent of the effects of her chemotherapy (removing her wig to reveal grey, short hair).

But another Jenny story, involving the surprise death of her mother, felt poorly handled by comparison as it never seemed to rock the character as you felt it should, especially in light of all that Jenny has been going through. Instead, the writers used it as an excuse to unearth some sibling rivalry with her visiting sister, while almost forgetting to allow either sister the time to properly grieve.

If anything, season nine was marked by its failure to really capitalise on the big moments it frequently set up.

Adam (James Nesbitt), for instance, had to contend with accusations of chauvinism and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace early on (in a clear nod to the #MeToo era). Yet, again, the show defused the situation too easily and failed to ask either Adam or its audience any really probing questions on the issue. Rather, it seemed content to merely piggy back on a hot button issue without really having anything to say.

Similarly, both David (Robert Bathurst) and Pete (John Thomson) also succumbed to lightweight writing despite having potentially character demanding storylines put before them.

David’s arc seemed to rely heavily on contrivance as, first, he found new employment in a café, only to be plucked from his quiet life back into the higher echelons of the financial sector. This, in turn, enabled him to rekindle his relationship with second ex-wife Robyn (Lucy Robinson). But where previous seasons had really put David through the mire, this one seemed content merely to bestow good fortune upon good fortune upon him.

Pete, meanwhile, was presented with the possibility of finding sexual gratification in the arms of a woman he met on jury service, only to be tempted for one episode and then seemingly forgotten. The writers seemed to ignore that the same woman had loaned him money. But the character was discarded too quickly, as was another female newcomer: Adam’s prospective adopted daughter.

Fortunately, the principal cast remained skilled enough to steady the ship and make up for the lapses in writing, keeping the characters engaging in a disposable kind of way.

And in the final episode, there was a closure of sorts, as Adam and Karen (Hermione Norris) overcame their difficulties to pledge their future to each other, albeit in long distance fashion given that Adam is now touring Europe with his son and Karen has accepted a job of a lifetime offer in London – another of those easily earned opportunities that this series kept on delivering.

Indeed, the final episode – delivered the weekend after Valentine’s Day – felt like its own love letter to the core element that has maintained Cold Feet through all of its seasons thus far: relationships. Aside from Adam and Karen, the future looked bright for just about everyone.

Pete declared Jenny to be his ‘bucket list’, before being offered the opportunity of a father’s lifetime by being tour bus driver for his son’s band as they embarked on a tour around Europe; and David and Robyn confirmed that they would make a second go of their own rekindled romance.

It was the sort of finale designed to bring a smile to the faces of long-term Cold Feet fans: a fond farewell that offered an optimistic future for all five main characters given the torments and difficulties they have encountered during this second, mid-life run of the series.

But where season eight delivered some really weighty emotional blows (and, as a result, some really terrific performances), season nine felt more like it was treading water and a lot more lightweight by comparison. It meant that news of a second hiatus felt almost inevitable and just in the nick of time before the revival outstayed its welcome.