Category Archives: Comic Relief

‘Only Fools and Horses’ (Sport Relief) Review

In January this year, it was announced that the nation’s favourite sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, was to return after an eleven year hiatus for Sport Relief. The show’s legion of fans were divided: some rejoiced, some despaired. I suppose I was in the latter camp; all of the Only Fools revivals (the trilogy of specials from 2001-2003, spin-off The Green Green Grass and prequel Rock &  Chips) largely failed to live up to the original series and, more importantly, writer and creator John Sullivan sadly passed away in 2011, leaving it to his two sons to write the script based on notes that their dad had left behind. Despite all of this, though, I tried to remain optimistic – and my optimism paid dividends as the sketch was a triumph!

Jim Sullivan already had form, having written seven episodes of The Green Green Grass – all of which I remember as being of the same standard as his father’s. Together with his brother Dan, and despite having refused to write a new Only Fools in the past, he penned this brand new ten minute episode, starring none other than David Beckham – who it turns out is actually a canny actor. Who knew?

Unlike Sir David Jason’s other revival, Still Open All Hours, thankfully nothing had changed in the world of the Trotters as Del was still trying to flog a batch of hooky goods with Rodney as his guinea pig and model. In this case, it was boxes of Beckham boxers – with each autographed by Golden Balls himself, a gag reminiscent of when Del tried to sell some cricket bats (‘each one personally autographed by Viv Richards’). However, this wasn’t the only reference to past gems as others came in the form of conversation between Del and Rodney in – what I assume was – Sid’s cafe, and also a fantastic pay-off at the end which for some reason I didn’t see coming but had me applauding – even if I was by myself in the sitting room.

The episode was quite a gem. Granted, it wasn’t packed with the laughs that fans of the original series will have been accustomed to but I’m sure no viewer expected that. The thing that took me most by surprise was how it altered my stance on the possibility of the show returning. I’d still be sceptical if a series was commissioned but Jim and Dan Sullivan have certainly proven their knack for crafting dialogue and situations that are on par with their dad’s, and so – and I never thought I’d say this – perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad decision on the BBC’s part to give the green light to a Christmas special? Judging by this episode, the scripts would be just as good as when John Sullivan was at the helm and David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst certainly wouldn’t have any problem slipping back into their roles as Peckham’s most notorious dodgy dealers – it was as if no time had elapsed between 2001 (when all of the ‘01-‘03 specials were filmed) and now.

Maybe the success of Still Open All Hours and Birds of a Feather, coupled with the overwhelmingly positive reaction to this episode from the Twit tersphere, will convince them and the writers to take a punt on this, the most treasured of TV sitcoms?

All images ©Comic Relief

To find out how to donate to Sport Relief and where your money goes, head over to sportrelief.com

What did you think of Only Fools and Horses? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

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Eye-Opening, Deeply Moving and Unbelievably Rewarding: ‘Mary & Martha’ Review

After watching BBC1’s one-off drama Mary & Martha on Friday night, I was put in mind of a quote from the blurb of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. A writer for The Times said, ‘[Hosseini’s] not afraid to pull every string in your heart to make it sing,’ and the same could be said for Richard Curtis – who added another string to his bow by creating this very drama-heavy masterpiece.

BACKGROUND

The program told the story of American mom Mary (Hilary Swank) and British mum Martha (Brenda Blethyn). Following trouble at school, Mary decides to take her son George out of America for a while, and enlighten him on a trip to Mozambique, where they drink in the local surroundings and culture. Elsewhere, Martha is made to bid a tearful – but pride-filled – goodbye to her beloved son, Ben, who has chosen to help teach children in Africa. However, tragically, both Mary and Martha’s sons are struck down and killed by malaria. The two women have a chance meeting in Mozambique and immediately become friends, which leads to them joining forces to campaign extensively for the awareness and prevention of malaria. The mothers’ reactions are much the same as those of Lenny Henry and writer Richard Curtis, following the latter’s 1985 visit to Ethiopia.

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

Having huge faith in the renowned talent of Curtis, I watched Mary & Martha with high hopes – something which is dangerous to do, as you tend to end up disappointed. What I saw, however, met my expectations and perhaps even exceeded them. From Geraldine Grainger to Bridget Jones, Curtis is excellent when writing about strong women – and so it was with Mary and Martha. In addition to the wonderful script, impeccable casting made this programme a treat. As expected, Swank and Blethyn were perfect as the eponymous leads and there wasn’t one weak performance across the ninety minutes. I particularly hope that Lux Haney-Jardine has been cemented in casting directors’ minds, after his superb portrayal of George, Mary’s tragic son.

NEITHER CONDESCENDING, NOR OVERPOWERING’

Richard Curtis’s huge passion for the campaign was palpable. He managed to create a drama which was neither condescending, nor overpowering but instead saw him strike the appropriate tone and effectively show the devastating effects of malaria. The brilliant establishment of his characters and use of beautiful surroundings (despite it not being filmed in its setting of Mozambique) helped to convey the writer’s message: by rooting for, connecting and falling in love with Mary and Martha and being sucked in and awe-struck by the wondrous location, I inevitably understood and appreciated Richard Curtis’s mission – that being to raise awareness for and open our eyes to the unbelievable tragedies that occur daily in the Third World, while we carry on with our day-to-day Western lives.

In fact, that’s another thing which Mary & Martha showcased excellently. There was a particular scene, just after Mary returned from Mozambique to her luxurious life in the States, which saw her become angered by her friend’s unhappiness at her husband’s purchase of a Mercedes – which went against her wishes for a Lexus. Inspired by the writer’s feelings after he returned from his aforementioned visit to Ethiopia, this scene introduced a theme which, while it would not be as prevalent, would run throughout the remainder of the programme. It strongly and thought-provokingly contrasted our materialism with African poverty. It may seem unfair that multi-millionaire writer, director and producer Richard Curtis should be pontificating to us ordinary people of Britain about Western greed but it really did accentuate the preventable problems facing Africa.

DIFFICULT TO COMPREHEND’

As well as being a renowned comedy writer, Richard Curtis is also not averse to the occasional smattering of sentiment in his work (lest we forget the final scene in Blackadder Goes Forth – possibly the most devastatingly poignant conclusion to a TV series we have seen). Mary & Martha delivered this in abundance. It was so upsetting to watch George and Ben be struck by and die from malaria, aged 12 and 24, respectively. That’s how affected I was by watching two fictional characters I had only got to know over not much more than thirty minutes. It is horrendous to think and so difficult to comprehend that this happens to 665,000 people every year. In the time it took me to watch Mary & Martha, it will have stolen the lives of over 100 people across the world.

COMIC RELIEF

A third of the way into the program, I was already thinking of how much I would pledge to Comic Relief. Although the surroundings were stunning and made me jealous of those experiencing them, Curtis’s purpose for writing it shone through. The work of Comic Relief is vital. If it affected others in the same way it did me, I am sure that Mary & Martha will do wonders for the cause. Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney summed it up with this tweet, sent twenty minutes after the program ended:

Gemma Cairney tweet - 'Mary and Martha'

TV producer and Holly Willoughby’s other half, Dan Baldwin, also posted this in summary:

Dan Baldwin tweet - 'Mary and Martha'

Hear, hear, Dan!

TV shows seldom move me to tears, but Mary & Martha did. Richard Curtis didn’t need to use crude humour and vulgar language – exquisite, heart-rending drama sufficed.

Mary & Martha was made in support of Comic Relief. Red Nose Day is being celebrated on Friday 15th March, with the big event being broadcast live on BBC1 on that day. Visit the Comic Relief website to find out what’s going on and how to donate.

If you missed it, Mary & Martha is available on BBC iPlayer – just follow this link.*

What did you think of Mary & Martha? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

*Available until Friday 8th March 2013