By Evelyn Renold
Where are you getting your groceries? and What are you watching? That’s what friends most want to know these days (apart from your health status). Actually, there’s quite a bit to watch, though with movie and TV production almost at a standstill, the pickings may get slimmer as time goes on. (On the plus side, filming on Season 4 of “The Crown” wrapped just before lockdown, so we may get to see that later this year.) Below, some Insider recommendations:
From “Downton Abby” mastermind Julian Fellows, Belgravia begins in Belgium, just before the battle of Waterloo, then flashes forward 26 years to London’s tonier precincts. Though the miniseries touches on the rise of the merchant class and the acceptance of rich tradesmen in polite society, “Belgravia” is really a genteel, highbrow soap. Which means lots of twisty plot turns, exposing deep, dark family secrets, and spot-on performances from an array of top-notch actors (Tom Wilkerson and Harriet Walter are perhaps best-known to American audiences). With only six one-hour episodes, “Belgravia” proceeds at a much brisker clip than “Downton,” and requires more of the viewer’s attention. Continuity problems and loose ends do surface, but it’s a satisfying experience overall. On Epix; you’ll need to subscribe, but can cancel after you binge.
Also from the prolific Fellows: The English Game, about the beginnings of professional soccer in the U.K .of the late 1800s, and its transformation from an aristocratic amusement to a money-making sport. If that makes it sound male-centric and boring, rest assured it is not. “Game” also features a soapy narrative—filled with romance, intrigue and something akin to class warfare--in addition to a number of appealing performances. On Netflix.
Bad Education is a made-for-HBO movie based on the true story of a high school superintendent on Long Island (Roslyn, to be precise) who embezzled millions from the district and lived the high life until he was brought down by a student journalist. “Bad” stars Hugh Jackman as the perpetrator and Allison Janey as his assistant/partner in crime. You may wonder how he got away with it all for so long and, more to the point, why there was so much money around for him to pinch. No matter. Jackman is a revelation here: sly and—yes—funny as the unctuous, overconfident administrator. (Janey, alas, overacts.) The real perp, who served four years in prison (and now gets a $170,000-a-year pension from the school district), is nowhere near as dashing as Jackman, but that’s hardly a surprise.
There’s too much hysteria in the second season of Dead to Me, the Netflix comedy-drama-mystery, and the ending is limp. Still, there’s fun to be had along the way. The dialogue can be crisp and clever, and the jaw-dropping surprises and reversals keep you absorbed. In fact, most episodes end with a jolt, which is to say “Dead” was born to be binged--good luck trying to watch one at a time. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play Jen and Judy, unlikely friends who get into a heap of trouble in scenic Laguna Beach, CA. Cardellini, in particular, is a hoot—totally believable as a good-hearted but disaster-prone airhead.
Niagara is a movie-movie, released in 1953. I saw it on TCM the other day, but you can also find it on platforms ranging from YouTube to Amazon. Though shot in color, it’s almost a classic film noir. Marilyn Monroe plays a shameless hussy, married to the long-suffering Joseph Cotten. Jean Peters and her husband (Max Showalter) meet the couple at a Niagara lodge, and murder ensues. Monroe, only 26 when the film was shot, gives a mature performance: nothing innocent about this beautiful blonde. And yet it’s Peters’ movie in a way. She’s the anti-Monroe—a down-to-earth, sensible brunette; attractive, but in a wiry, athletic way—and the story pivots around her. Director Henry Hathaway, though mostly known for Westerns, had a long and varied Hollywood career; here, he packs plenty of action and suspense into an economical 91 minutes. Niagara’s famous falls play a key role in this atmospheric film, and the stunning bell tower sequence prefigures Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”
Evelyn Renold is a longtime editor with a special interest in arts and entertainment. Her wide-ranging career has included stints at Newsday, The New York Daily News, Lear’s and Good Housekeeping. She currently reviews literary fiction for Kirkus and works with authors at evelynrenold.com