Category: Reviews

Isolation in Iceland: thoughts on I Remember You

Having read Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novel I Remember You (Ég man þig) and seen the film adaptation, I found myself thinking about the theme of isolation.

A group of three adults head from Reykjavík to a remote outcrop of the Westfjords where they plan to do up an abandoned house and set it up as a B&B. The house is one of a few scattered buildings in all that remains of the abandoned village of Heysteri. Although not an island, it can only be reached by boat as there’s no roads over the mountain. In summer, it’s busy with visitors who want to climb or walk the hills and mountains that surround the area, but come winter and you are entirely cut off and alone.

In Ísafjörður, a boat ride away, lives a psychiatrist whose son has disappeared. His marriage collapsed in the face of their family tragedy, and he endures emotional isolation. He’s started to see what is either an apparition or a hallucination of his missing son. And a local woman, who was obsessed with the boy’s disappearance, has hanged herself in a church – which, it just so happens, had been moved from Heysteri and rebuilt.

Sigurðardóttir usually writes crime fiction, but even her “straight” crime fiction contains supernatural elements, be they a character’s fascination with seventeenth-century witchcraft, or the legend of babies who can still be heard crying on the rocks where they were left to die of exposure. There’s lots to learn by osmosis about Icelandic history, culture and traditions in her work.

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Strange history: BBC1’s Taboo

Tom Hardy in Taboo

Tom Hardy in Taboo, BBC. Some people found Tom’s hat unintentionally amusing.

**SPOILER WARNINGS**

I was excited about BBC1’s gritty historical drama Taboo. After all, it was created by Steven Knight (the man behind Peaky Blinders, which I love), Tom Hardy and Hardy’s dad. Knight wrote it, as fans of Peaky Blinders will immediately spot – the troubled amoral “hero”, everything leading up to a nail-biting and very satisfying final episode. And I really loved the character Lorna Bow – an actress and young widow.

But I have to say that watching the series, I spent half the time entertained (sometimes when I should have been and sometimes when the concept’s daftness overwhelmed me – the Tom Hardy Grunt Counter springs to mind), and half the time feeling rather irritated.

I can’t help it. I know my history, and… well…. Shall we say that I identified a couple of historical errors, which, as someone who knows about these things, I really feel I need to point out.1)There were other things I found rather… strange, but other people have written about those aspects. Such as, does Tom Hardy look convincingly like someone who is part white British and part First Nations?

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. There were other things I found rather… strange, but other people have written about those aspects. Such as, does Tom Hardy look convincingly like someone who is part white British and part First Nations?

Endeavour and the crime scene photos that never were

A Victorian camera is set up to take a photograph of a pram. A Victorian policeman looks on.

A still from “Endeavour” – “Nocturne”.

Warning: for spoilers and dead people.

Television series Endeavour tells the adventures of young Inspector Morse, when he was mere Detective Constable Morse. I was late coming to this programme, but I have become completely addicted to it. Perhaps it’s the slightly grubby vision of the 1960s that fascinates. Perhaps it’s the puzzling plots. Perhaps it’s the portrayal of young Morse by Shaun Evans, who manages to include John Thaw mannerisms in his characterisation without looking as if it’s an impression.

There’s lots to love about it but one episode caught my attention particularly – “Nocturne”, in the second series.

Set in 1966 during the World Cup, there are flashbacks to 1866, when several children of a tea magnate, their nurse and governess, were murdered. Everyone thinks the murderer was the surviving daughter, who was, apparently, disturbed, and ended her days in an institution.

My interest was immediately piqued – nineteenth-century crime! – and when I heard the music, which was played on the piano and on the world’s creepiest music box, and was woven through the background music, I recognised it at once.

The piece of music is Chopin’s Nocturne no.1. It’s a beautiful piece for piano but it is intensely creepy and unnerving. It’s in B flat minor, which goes to some way to explaining it, plus the way that it keeps reaching for resolution and takes a surprising direction keeps the listener on the alert. This seems to be something to do with “picardie thirds” but that’s another story. It’s often peddled as a relaxing number – but I find it’s quite the opposite. It’s calm, but discordant, which makes it terrifying.

It was for this reason that last year, without having seen that episode of Endeavour, I used exactly the same Chopin piece for the Poison Panic book trailer.

So I’m not the only person to hear that nocturne and think of Victorian murder.

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Thoughts: To Walk Invisible

****ing h***!

I’d seen the trailers – this Brontë biopic promised an accurately short Charlotte, and an Emily who doled out physical violence when enraged that her poems were read without her permission. This is the version of the Brontës that seems most plausible to me, and when the warning came up on iPlayer – Guidance: Contains some strong language and some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting – recommending it for viewers of 16 and over, I was hopping up and down on my sofa with glee.

I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. Continue reading

Review: River, or The Adventure of the Haunted Policeman

River with colleague/"manifest" Stevie

River with colleague/”manifest” Stevie

There are hundreds of crime dramas on our TVs, and each one tries to attack this old genre in a new way – set it in Oxford (Inspector Morse), set it in two countries at once (The Bridge), highlight new technology (the seemingly endless CSI and NCIS franchises, Silent Witness, Bones), show the legal process from start to finish (Law & Order), do history at the same time (Ripper Street, Whitechapel, Anno 1790, Inspector Whicher, Peaky Blinders), use lavish art deco sets (Poirot), plot the criminal brain (Cracker, Criminal Minds), update an old chestnut (Sherlock, Elementary), adapt novels and short stories (most of the aforesaid, Arne Dahl), have some nice scenery (Wycliffe, Vera), set it in Brighton (Cuffs)… etc etc etc.1)Clearly, not an exhaustive list. In none of these does anyone say “Let’s have a detective who’s haunted by dead people.”

But that’s where River is different.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Clearly, not an exhaustive list.