TV Mini-Series – Catch-22

It must be 40 years since I read Joseph Heller’s classic. I’m sure that many people younger than me who use / misuse the term “catch-22” have never heard of Heller, let alone read the book. This six-part mini-series, directed by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Ellen Kuras, is a brilliant adaptation of the novel. It’s so long since I read the book, I cannot, however, attest to its faithfulness to the original.

What I can say is that it is in equal parts moving, hilarious, farcical, depressing, cynical and, I suspect, very accurate, in relation to the reality of war. The main role of John Yossarian (‘Yo-Yo’) is a played by Christopher Abbott. Abbott manages to capture Yo-Yo’s endearing combination of intelligence, naiveté, passion, bravery, compassion, humour and sensitivity. His facial expressions in particular are highly skilled and the camera close-ups on his face are a key part of setting the tone of the production. It’s one of those performances which make it hard for anyone else to play the role.

Clooney has a significant part as the eccentric Scheisskopf. Almost stealing the show is Daniel David Stewart as Milo Minderbinder, the fast talking but lovable budding capitalist, who finds the most inventive ways of making money out of war (presaging perhaps the rise of disaster capitalism, Bechtel, Halliburton etc.). Hugh Laurie appears early on, including the central role in one of the funniest scenes in the whole series. Not all of the characters are funny and likeable however, and the cruelty of war is represented, though perhaps not as fully as it might be.

Yossarian finds himself trapped in a paradise island off the coast of Italy, which the U.S. army air force is using as a base to bomb the German forces on the mainland. His life consists of contrasting periods – swimming in pristine waters, boredom awaiting the next mission and the nightmare of being a sitting target in a bomber aircraft flying over Italy. The erosion of his sanity progresses steadily until the last episode, in which the viewer is confronted with the full horror and futility of war and the contorted logic of those in command.

Highly recommended.


copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

TV Review: “A Very English Scandal”

If you lived in the U.K. in the ’70s, you would have been enthralled by the “Jeremy Thorpe Affair”. Thorpe was leader of the Liberal Party, a party which was truly liberal and not hard right-wing like the Australian party of the same name. Thorpe was, I think, generally regarded as a good guy by progressive people. If there was preferential voting in the U.K. I might have voted Labour 1, Liberals 2. He was anti-hanging, pro-immigrant, pro-Europe and critical of oppressive regimes such as South Africa and Rhodesia.

This three-part series starts at the time when Thorpe was doing well, and close to gaining significant power. The scandal that brought him down was his affair with Norman Scott, which developed into a serious relationship, but later turned ugly.

Thorpe is played by Hugh Grant and Scott by Ben Whishaw. It is based on a “true-life novel” by John Preston. I’m no fan of Hugh Grant but he makes a great Thorpe. Grant has an uncanny facial likeness to Thorpe (see below), although at times his English upper-class mannerisms kept reminding me of Hugh Laurie’s Prince George in “Blackadder”.

jeremy-thorpe-and-hugh-grant-d122798

Whishaw also does well as Scott. It’s impossible to know if Scott really was as effeminate as portrayed, and again, at times, the mannerisms were very “Ooh Betty” / “Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em”. Nevertheless, it is a performance of great sensitivity, and I emerged having a great deal of sympathy for both Scott and Thorpe.

This is a gripping series, worth watching as a thriller even if you don’t know the background to the events.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

Image: https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2019-01-15/the-real-history-behind-a-very-english-scandal-and-the-jeremy-thorpe-affair/