Roadkill reviews: Critics heap praise on Hugh Lauries performance

Hugh Laurie is back on our screens in David Hare’s latest political thriller, Roadkill, which critics have given a mostly warm reception.

The four-parter, directed by Line of Duty’s Michael Keillor, stars Laurie as a controversial Conservative minister.

The cast also includes Us actors Saskia Reeves and Iain De Caestecker alongside Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory.

Critics lauded the performances in the BBC drama but had some caveats, such as the “dodgy dialogue”.

Several newspaper critics bestowed four stars out of five on the first episode, which sees Laurie’s character Peter Laurence battling to stop both his public and private life falling apart against a backdrop of political plotting and intrigue.

The Telegraph’s Anita Singh was one of those, describing Laurie as “great, just as he was in The Night Manager. It’s a charismatic performance and he gets under the skin of Laurence”.

She added: “Hare has crafted an intriguing plot and succeeds in making us want to find out where Laurence goes next. But he is a playwright and with the exception of Laurie, who makes the dialogue sing, the characters speak in ways better suited to the stage than an approximation of real life.

“Dodgy dialogue and ropy exposition can be forgiven when the plot is so enticing and Hugh Laurie, as a slippery MP, is so charismatic.”

The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens largely enjoyed the first episode, also giving it four stars and lavishing praise on both the performances of the leads and Hare’s writing.

“With any actor less likeable than Hugh, this story would be unbearably cynical,” he wrote

“Sir David expertly shows us the man’s charming façade as well as his cold, hard core.”

He added: “Helen McCrory is at her best playing PM Dawn Ellison as part Margaret Thatcher, part Peaky Blinder.”

The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan also thought the drama worthy of four stars, noting the thriller’s universal appeal at a time of real-life political turmoil amidst a global pandemic with Brexit looming.

“It is good to be reminded of the enduring truths – that power corrupts, that charisma tells us nothing of a man (or woman), that political ambition is rarely purely a craving to serve the public. In a good light, on a good day, it makes their multiple manifestations look more manageable,” she wrote.

Writing in the Independent, Ed Cumming was slightly less enamoured, giving Roadkill three stars, feeling it was a little dated.

“Roadkill’s pedigree is obvious. It’s competently put together and the plot draws you in,” he wrote.

“For all its post-Brexit aspirations, though, this feels like a drama from an earlier time, with a traditional left-wing heart. However outlandish the fictional scheming on display, the real world is crazier, and we’ve seen this kind of conspiracy too many times before.”

Carol Midgley of The Times also gave the drama three stars, again singling out Laurie and McCrory for praise.

“It is too mannered and expositional to be realistic (in this way it reminded me of Bodyguard), but it is welcome immersive escapism and not nearly as earnest and improbable as Hare’s last big TV offering, Collateral, which was like being subjected to weekly political sermons via water cannon.”

She added: “This was mostly down to the excellent Hugh Laurie as ‘man of the people Tory’ Peter Laurence, especially when he was in scenes with the equally splendid Helen McCrory playing a ball-busting prime minister with a Margaret Thatcher hairdo but far better clothes.”

Midgley also revealed that she had seen the whole series and felt the first episode was “the weakest”.

Radio Times critic Eleanor Bley Griffiths was probably the least impressed, describing episode one as “a bit of a disappointment”, although she still gave it a three-star review.

Chiming with Midgley’s point that the drama is unrealistic at times, Griffiths wrote that “certain characters behave in wildly implausible ways”, referring to a plotline featuring a journalist played by Sarah Greene.

“Why, for example, would Charmian Pepper be utterly flabbergasted that her editor would fire her after she changed her story in court and lost her newspaper £1.5 million?” she asks.

“But Roadkill is saved, to some extent, by the calibre of the actors involved. Hugh Laurie is predictably excellent. Then there’s a prime ministerial Helen McCrory, who gives us a glimpse of what it would be like if Peaky Blinders’ Aunt Pol made it to Number Ten.”

Victoria Wood biography explores her painful childhood

Victoria Wood’s best work had a comic breadth and energy few contemporaries could match.

When she died in 2016, for some fans it was as though a family member had been taken from them. Now an authorised biography looks at what lay behind her extraordinary and multifaceted talent.

Journalist Jasper Rees first interviewed Wood in 1999. It was the first of several encounters over the next decade.

“I was doing a piece on the second series of Dinnerladies, which had become a big hit. I went back two years later but this time the conversation turned to issues with her weight and quite a lot about childhood and her parents.

“She said that one day she’d write about her early years in showbusiness but not about her childhood: she said she wasn’t ready to open that can of worms yet. I guess what she meant was her relationship with her mother Helen.”

Rees’s biography of Wood is full of detail and insight. Only Wood herself could have revealed more about how an introverted young drama student fretting about her body image at Birmingham University became one of Britain’s great comic talents.

Parallels have been drawn with people as diverse as Joyce Grenfell, Morecambe and Wise and Noel Coward.

Yet no one else – female or male – has had such success across the board as a stand-up comedian, actress, sketch-writer, singer, composer, producer, screenwriter and playwright. Possibly the only ambition unfulfilled when she died from cancer aged 62 was to write a big film.

As her authorised biographer, Rees was given access to Wood’s entire archive.

“Victoria was a great hoarder, as her mother had been. We’re talking a large number of boxes of scripts and notes, photo albums, scrapbooks, tapes, school notebooks – anything she had written.

“But I can honestly say that at no point did I feel I had the estate looking over my shoulder. Lucy Ansbro, her literary executor, read what I’d written but she didn’t ask for any meaningful changes. I wrote the book I wanted to write.”

He was given revealing material by family members too.

“The first interview I did was with her older sister Rosalind and during that conversation she asked did I want the letters? They were in a Jiffy bag and were mainly from Victoria’s time studying in Birmingham from 1971.

“Eventually – I suppose when people had come to trust me – around 25 people shared correspondence with me covering her whole adult life.

“Some of it was very intimate. There are emails to friends from the time when her marriage to Geoffrey Durham was failing and from the last few months when she knew she had cancer.”

Rees’s introduction to the book bears the chapter title “Victoria Woods” – a misspelling of her surname she encountered before she became famous.

“What I’m indicating is that there were two Victorias – the public figure who was a creation and then the private person.

“But my hope with the book is that quoting from her own correspondence, plus the perspectives of the people who knew her, means the reader gets pretty close to her.

“But there is a difference between the two Victorias. One is so warm and so loveable and who her fans always saw as so nice. Then there’s the Victoria who was quite domineering in the studio and with colleagues.”

The new biography makes clear that Wood was sure she knew best how her work was to be presented. With a couple of exceptions she had little respect for senior figures in the BBC.

Rees spoke to contemporaries from her time as a drama student and the tough first years trying to establish herself as a performer. “She was socially awkward and lacking self-confidence – as she acknowledged later.

“When you’re on the stage you’re in control. Even with 5,000 people at the Albert Hall it was what she liked. She wanted to be in charge of the transaction between her and the other people in the room.

“It’s significant that she always hated parties, even if she was the one throwing it. She didn’t want to be with a lot of people where she wasn’t in control.”

Rees says that if he could ask Wood now about one aspect of her life it would be her relationship with her mother Helen (Nellie) Wood.

“I think the relationship with her mother is a key to understanding her life and what she did with it. From the moment Victoria at 35 gave birth to her daughter Grace she was incredibly assiduous in the role. She became the mother she had never had herself.

“Victoria was sort of abandoned for her teenage years. Probably her most personal TV writing which reflects that is the TV drama Pat and Margaret (1994).”

The story centres on two sisters, played by Wood and Julie Walters, who meet the mother they haven’t seen for years.

“Her former husband Geoffrey told me that the screenplay reflects the non-availability of Victoria’s own mother which had always been an unspoken fact in the family,” says Rees.

“And if you look at Petula Gordeno in Dinnerladies [another Walters performance] she’s grotesquely comic but again she’s a neglectful mother. It’s a constant drumbeat within Victoria’s work.”

Rees investigates the sometimes painful origins of Wood’s humour but says no one can ignore the quality of her creativity.

“If she’d only been a sketch writer or had only come up with songs like The Ballad Of Barry And Freda we’d still be celebrating her. But she was the best at so many things.”

He came to the conclusion that Wood’s talent was based on her ever attentive ear.

“She had an ear for speech and rhyme. But beyond that there was always an ear for truth. She wrote about what it is to be an ordinary person watching ordinary TV – and she turned it into inimitable comedy.

“It’s hard to remember that there really were no female stand-up comics before her – comedy was almost entirely male.

“Even a talent such as Joyce Grenfell was doing character comedy whereas Victoria was appearing as herself. Or a version of herself.”

Rees says above all the BBC series Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV (1985 -1987) and Dinnerladies (1998-2000) had the rare warmth which audiences wanted to be reflected in her own personality.

“But you have to remember that she was writing every word, which isn’t what happens in other comedy shows. So she was firmly protective of her own creations.

“The pressure she put on herself to get it right was extreme and she didn’t really trust anyone else to do it. She could be demanding on brilliant performers such as Julie Walters and Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston and Susie Blake – but she always asked much, much more of herself. All those people still have an immense affection for her. And an immense gratitude.”

Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood by Jasper Rees is out now.

Saturday Night Live: Adele excited and terrified to host

OK, so what do the following stars all have in common? Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Issa Rae and Adele.

Well, as of this weekend, they will all have recently guest presented the coveted US comedy sketch series Saturday Night Live.

Adele announced the news on Instagram on Sunday, saying she is “so excited” and “absolutely terrified”.

The Grammy-winning UK pop star will have one of her favourite US singer-songwriters, H.E.R, as a musical guest.

Her big presenting debut on the long-running NBC series is described as “a standalone moment”, and as such is not necessarily tied to her releasing any new music.

“Bloooooody hellllll” wrote Adele. “I’m so excited about this!! And also absolutely terrified! My first ever hosting gig and for SNL of all things!!!!

“I’ve always wanted to do it as a stand alone moment, so that I could roll up my sleeves and fully throw myself into it, but the time has never been right.”

She added: “But if there was ever a time for any of us to jump head first into the deep end with our eyes closed and hope for the best it’s 2020 right?”

Adele has kept a low profile since her world tour ended early in 2017, but she has been rumoured to be in the studio making a new fourth album.

Privately, the star’s been through a break-up with her husband Simon Konecki and, on her 31st birthday, she wrote that she’d “changed drastically in the last couple years”.

Tabloid attention has focused on her recent Instagram posts, which have shown the singer has lost weight.

Yes! In a word.

The 32-year-old Londoner got her big break in America as a musical guest on the show in 2008, when she appeared alongside the then-US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in what turned out to be one of the most-watched episodes ever.

Now on the eve of another US presidential election, Adele said it feels like her career is about to come full circle.

“It’ll be almost 12 years to the day that I first appeared on the show, during an [US] election… which went on to break my career in America, so it feels full circle and I just couldn’t possibly say no!” she wrote.

US audiences are, of course, fairly au fait with the star already, after her 2015 album, 25, won album of the year at the Grammys. Remember? Yes you do, that was the night she tearfully dedicated the award to “the artist of my life” Beyonce, who was looking on lovingly in the front row.

Aanother Brit who recently boosted her profile Stateside by hosting Saturday Night Live is Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Fleabag and Killing Eve creator is becoming a big name now on both sides of the Atlantic, having won big at last year’s Emmy Awards.

Her hosting duties included appearing as the character Bella Rosa, in a skit of the UK reality show Love Island, which has also spawned a US version.

Waller-Bridge appeared caked in fake tan and with lip fillers, looking for love with somebody “proper fit”, with “tattoos” and “really great banter”.

Down the years the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Ringo Starr, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Daniel Radcliffe have all hosted the show.

Earlier this month, the first episode of the 46th series of the show – hosted by Chris Rock – drew an audience of more than 8 million viewers (according to The Hollywood Reporter).

So no pressure Adele…

Idris Elba: We can all help solve climate change

Idris Elba and his wife, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, have said individuals can make a difference in tackling climate change.

The couple were speaking to Liz Bonnin for BBC Radio 5 Live’s new podcast ‘What Planet Are We On?’

Actor, producer and DJ, Idris said: “There is definitely something that we can all do. You are doing it now listening to this. There is hope.”

Sabrina, who is a model and actress, added: “There is a method, there are steps.

“It isn’t just throw your hands in the air and go ‘the world is on fire’.

“There are solutions and it’s figuring out what those solutions are and how we can each play a part because we do know that every person can make a difference.

“It is so easy to feel hopeless when you do hear all of that scaremongering but people can make a change. Each individual person.”

Climate change is often seen as a problem that’s so big, it needs to be tackled at the level of world governments. But the couple say every person can play a role.

The 10-part podcast explores issues and solutions around climate change. The couple feature in an episode which looks at the impact of climate change on our global food systems.

Idris said he wanted to use his platform to “shine a light” on those most affected by global warming.

“There’s no shortage of voices talking about climate change and the green debate,” he said, “but there’s not much visibility on the people that haven’t much at all and still suffer climate change.

“We look at small farmers as slightly unrelated to us, somewhere in the Sahara, but that food chain links to all of us.

“The effect is not apparent now, but it will be massively.”

Sabrina and Idris are ambassadors for the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Some of IFAD’s projects aim to make food production more resilient to the impacts of climate change. They are piloting climate adaption technologies such as rainwater harvesting and supplementary irrigation.

Sabrina said she and Idris had a strong passion for taking care of the planet for the coming generations.

“We’ve just got married. I want to have children one day and bring them into a world which I don’t think will be destroyed in the coming years,” she said.

That sense of responsibility has led them to look for programmes which help people in Africa who are affected by climate change. Last year, they went to Sierra Leone to meet farmers affected by the Ebola epidemic.

“These farmers are probably the least contributors to the climate change problem but are yet being affected the most,” said Sabrina.

“This demand, which we saw go up with the pandemic, has always been an almost unreal demand. Food waste is no secret issue in the West and in the North”.

Speaking of how he would like to see the world change, Idris said: “My son is six years old and I want him to know Daddy went to Sierra Leone to look at agriculture. ‘What’s agriculture, Daddy?’ Well it’s a way of growing food. It’s a way of looking after our world. And if we look after our world, it will supply us back.

“And that is something we should leave with the next generation. Even if it’s just not that everyone is going to be a great farmer but it’s the understanding of the food chain and food supply. That is really important.”

Exactly how climate change will affect our food security depends on where in the world we are trying to produce food. And it is a problem intertwined with other threats, including an ongoing decline in crop-pollinating insects and the loss of the fertile soil we need to grow plants and graze livestock. According to the Global Food Security programme, there are three key challenges to feeding the global population in a changing climate:

Follow Victoria on Twitter

‘What Planet Are We On?’ is available to download on BBC Sounds.

Ammonite: Who was the real Mary Anning?

A story about a self-taught palaeontologist called Mary Anning has been transformed to the big screen as Ammonite, a depiction of a 19th-century love affair.

Francis Lee, who wrote and directed the film starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, readily admits this is not a biopic – and stands by the decision to depict a same-sex love story, despite the fact that Anning’s romantic inclinations are lost to history.

What is known about Anning – who helped shape our understanding of prehistoric life – makes it clear why her story inspired Ammonite, which has its UK premiere on Saturday.

“Mary Anning was three things you didn’t want to be in 19th-century Britain – she was female, working class and poor,” says Anya Pearson, who is campaigning for a statue in her honour.

“This was a time when even educated women weren’t allowed to own property or vote, but despite this horrendous upbringing she was able to do all these incredible things.”

Anning’s life was scarred by hardship and tragedy but also punctuated by scientific firsts.

She regularly risked her life in her hunt for fossils, making discoveries that captured the attention of the scientific elite, even though her social status and gender meant she never received the credit she deserved.

In 1811, at the age of just 12, Mary discovered a 5.2m (17ft) skeleton, now known to be an ichthyosaur. Twelve years later, she found the first complete skeleton of a plesiosaur, a marine reptile so bizarre that scientists thought it was a fake.

She also unearthed the UK’s first known remains of a pterosaur, believed to be the largest-ever flying animal.

Anning was born on 21 May 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset. She had been one of 10 children but they were a poor family and eight of her nine siblings died before reaching adulthood.

As a child, she would help her father collect fossils that he sold in his seafront cabinetmaker’s shop but in 1810, when Anning was 11, he died of tuberculosis. After his death, to help her mother make ends meet, Anning continued to collect fossils she would sell to tourists and collectors.

“Mary Anning had very little formal education,” says Emma Bernard, the Natural History Museum’s curator of fossil fish.

“However, she did educate herself on geology and anatomy and would dissect modern animals like fish and cuttlefish to better understand the fossils she found.”

It was a year after her father’s death that Anning discovered the skeleton – now known to be an ichthyosaur – that helped propel her into the history books.

At the time, the notion of extinction was a relatively new idea to science and the otherworldly creature became a topic of debate for many years.

Lyme Regis Museum geologist Paddy Howe, who was a technical adviser for Ammonite, describes Anning as a “very poor child who was making fantastic scientific discoveries”.

“At this time, geology and palaeontology were burgeoning sciences – just coming into their own, he says. “We know about ichthyosaur bones from the 1600s but it was the first one to be studied by scientists. It was very important.”

The marine reptile was bought from Anning for £23 and then purchased by the British Museum at auction in 1819. It can still be seen at the Natural History Museum today.

In 1823, 12 years after her ichthyosaur discovery, Anning became the first person to unearth a complete skeleton of another prehistoric sea creature – the plesiosaur.

“This particular specimen is the holotype, which means it is the specimen used to describe this species and that scientists still refer to it today when studying plesiosaurs,” Ms Bernard says.

“It was after this that scientists started to take her finds more seriously, seeking her out to look at her discoveries and discuss ideas.”

Despite Anning’s growing reputation, societal norms meant she would never be accepted into the elite scientific community. In fact, when the Geological Society met to discuss whether the plesiosaur was genuine, she was not invited – women were not admitted there until the 20th Century.

“If she was born in 1970, she’d be heading up a palaeontology department at Imperial or Cambridge,” says David Tucker, director of Lyme Regis museum.

“But she was a commercial fossil hunter; she had to sell what she found. Therefore, the fossils tended to be credited to museums in the name of the rich man that paid for them, rather than the poor woman who found them.

“This isn’t just around gender – the history of science is littered with the neglected contributions of working-class scientists.”

Despite her lifetime of groundbreaking work, Anning remained in hardship and died of breast cancer in 1847, aged 47. She is buried at St Michael the Archangel Church in Lyme Regis.

Following her death, Henry De la Beche, president of the Geological Society and a friend of Anning, broke with the society’s members-only tradition to read a eulogy at a meeting, paying homage to her achievements.

He wrote: “I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without adverting to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge.”

Three years later, a stained-glass window in her memory, paid for by members of the Geological Society, was installed in the church where she was buried.

Her legacy is also marked at Lyme Regis Museum, where there is a gallery dedicated to Anning’s life. In a pleasing coincidence, the museum stands on the site of her birthplace and family home.

“The fact that the museum is on the site of Mary’s house was not in any way planned,” Mr Tucker says. “Her family rented a part of the house which stood where we are, right on the edge of the sea.

“They were living in a house that was on the way down and prone to being hit by the huge waves and it was eventually destroyed by a storm.”

More than 170 years after her death, Anning’s story is taught in schools, and a campaign, supported by Sir David Attenborough and Prof Alice Roberts, is under way to erect a statue in her honour.

Evie Swyre, 13, began campaigning for the statue two years ago, claiming there were more statues in the UK of men called John than there were of all women.

“She’s done all these amazing things and sadly has been lost in history,” Evie says.

Her Mary Anning Rocks project recently selected sculptor Denise Dutton to create the statue, which would be erected on the seafront. A crowdfunding appeal to fund it will be launched next month.

“There have been a lot of forgotten women in history but all of them were educated and came from a wealthy background, but she was poor and working class,” says Evie’s mother and campaign trustee Anya Pearson.

“I get angry when people refer to her as ‘just a fossil collector’ because she had great men of learning travel across Europe to learn from her.

“I think she’s a wonderful, inspirational role model for kids today.”

Ammonite’s UK premiere takes place at the BFI London Film festival on Saturday. A special preview screening of the film, with introductions from the director and the cast, is also being shown at cinemas across the UK on the same day.

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