TV treasure - another Toby Jones hidden gem that’s pure gold
Quirky roles that evoke gentle humor, tenderness and compassion, silent suffering and a fair share of pathos too - these are a few of my favorite things about Toby Jones (see my earlier reviews of Marvelous and Don’t Forget the Driver). And so I’m thrilled that Acorn is streaming all three series of the BAFTA-award winning Detectorists, co-starring Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from The Office) who also wrote and directed this hidden gem.
Jones and Crook play Andy and Lance, two metal-detecting mates whose geeky hobby/obsession provides an escape from the humdrum mediocre of middle-age and their uneventful lives. Along with the other devoted members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (an eccentric collection of likeable oddbods) they dream of unearthing long-forgotten Saxon relics, as opposed to Tizer ring-pulls and Tufty Club badges, buried beneath the fields of Essex. Their companionship centers around mutual affection, dreams and disappointments ... and childishly poking fun at “Simon and Garfunkel”, their rival detectorist duo, whenever possible.
The cast also includes none other than Diana Rigg as Andy’s mum-in-law, who also just happened to be the real-life mother of his on-screen wife Becky, played by Rachael Sterling. The very presence of Dame Diana, shortly before her death, gives Detectorists the serious clout it fully deserves. And the folksy theme song by Johnny Flynn just adds even more to its charm (look out for Flynn singing down the pub in series 1).
In terms of storyline, not much happens at all.
Each episode is naturally slow-paced, with plenty of pregnant pauses, making it almost Pinteresque. The script is more whimsical than side-splitting (and a bit sweary, with some very strong language at times) and overall Detectorists is powerfully simple. However, the hidden jewel here is buried within the characters Crook has created. Digging deeper below the superficial surface, Lance and Andy are really searching for love, friendship, fulfillment, hope and happiness - the true treasures of life.
Watching Detectorists is such a lovely surprise; it’s so laid-back you’ll feel like you spent several half hours leisurely ambling through the English countryside on a warm summer day yourself. But unlike Lance and Andy, you will have discovered that some riches are not buried underground; they can be found on your TV screen instead.
Detectorists series 1-3 (plus bonus features) is streaming on Acorn TV.
Facts, fiction, fibs, bluffs and banter.
Would I Lie to You? is the funniest show on TV. Honest.
Let’s face it, we could all do with a good laugh to cheer us up right now. Hubby and I recently discovered this brilliant Brit comedy by accident (when we caught a clip featuring one of my favourites, Joe Lycett, as a guest) and got pulled right in. Turns out the smash-hit panel game show has been going since 2007 when it first aired on BBC One in the UK. It seems we’ve got some catching-up to do, so the entire Would I Lie to You? (WILTY) collection is now top of our BritBox watchlist and is one of the few things on telly these days that regularly has me in stitches.
The WILTY format is vaguely similar to the US and UK classic quiz shows What’s My Line? and Call My Bluff ; two teams compete as each player divulges unusual facts, deep secrets and embarrassing personal experiences, while the opposing team decides if it’s straight up gospel true or just a cock and bull story. Each episode also features a mystery guest who has some bizarre connection to one of the panelists. The other team has to suss out whose tall tale is actually legit before the guest reveals their real identity.
And did I mention, it’s really, really funny?
Over 13 series, the impressive list of panelists has included Jo Brand, Ricky Tomlinson, Richard E. Grant, Ray Winston, Ken Livingston, Olivia Colman, Michael McIntyre and Germaine Greer, not forgetting Jimmy Carr and Eamonn Holmes (both of whom I once interviewed for The Times). But my favourite thing about every episode is the hilarious banter between team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack, interlaced with witty quips from host Rob Brydon.
This winning formula of improv comedy has earned the series several awards as well as spawning a book, a board game and numerous international TV spin-offs. I also love the fact that WILTY is refreshingly family-friendly funny with no smutty jokes or sneering jibes. The quick-witted humor, which is razor-sharp, involves gentle teasing without ever being nasty or humiliating. Just good, clean fun.
If you’re looking for a little light-hearted relief from reality, turn on the telly and start streaming Would I Lie to You? on BritBox. Believe me, you’ll feel so much better - and that’s the truth.
Would I Lie to You? is streaming now on BritBox
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Mr Darcy as you’ve never seen him before!
Pride and Prejudice remastered in 4K for the first time ever.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of BBC's critically acclaimed Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, BritBox has completely digitized the original Super 16mm film masters at 4K resolution.
The result is a markedly more vivid experience in both HD and 4K, restoring and optimizing Jane Austen’s timeless classic for modern telly.
Great news for costume drama fans ...
and admirers of Mr Darcy's wet shirt in particular.
Check out the difference –
it really looks great!
BritBox serves up another
Toby Jones gem.
Don’t overlook this one.
Since I absolutely loved Toby Jones in the marvelous TV movie Marvelous, I was intrigued to discover him co-creating, co-writing and starring in another quirky Brit series, once again to critical acclaim.
Don’t Forget the Driver is officially a dark comedy, although I think the Guardian's label of “sad-com” is much more appropriate. This is a bleak, tragic tale of post-Brexit Brits based in Bognor, where smiles seem in short supply and any sign of a bright future looks like a no-deal.
Jones plays Peter Green, an unremarkable man of quiet routine. The highlights of his life include clip-on ties, limp packed lunches, his stroppy teenage daughter Kayla and a mum with Alzheimers who’s convinced he’s actually his twin brother. Peter’s job as a coach driver involves transporting Japanese tourists to Hampton Court, singing Baptists to a donkey sanctuary and a bus-load of grumpy pensioners on a day-trip booze cruise to Calais. His unassuming life is aptly reflected in the title of the series, as Peter is a man often overlooked. But the tide turns abruptly when a body is washed up on Bognor beach and Peter discovers a stowaway asylum seeker in the luggage compartment of his coach. His dull life will never be the same again and there’s no going back.
The script is a bit sweary, with frequent typically British “bollocks” and a few F-words too. But if you can bear the language, the dramatic story-line and impressive character studies make this must-watch telly. There’s Kayla’s mate and fellow misfit Brad, with his sick sense of humour and eccentric fashion sense, who is training to be an undertaker. Peter’s friend Fran runs the Phil-Me-Up Snack Shack where he buys his bacon butties before hitting the road. Kindly Fran gives vegetarian Kayla a job flipping burgers, while secretly wishing Pete would pay less attention to her disabled son and more attention to her. And then there’s his decidedly dodgy yet charming colleague Lech, the Polish mechanic, who is living on Peter’s coach. Each of these characters grow and develop as the story unfolds, and with Jones playing a double part as his twin brother Bazza too, the acting all round is outstanding.
BritBox is teasingly releasing only two of the six episodes per week, which just adds even more to the tension and intrigue. The first episode started slowly but soon had me hooked, and the brilliantly unexpected ending of episode two totally took my breath away. There’s pain, pathos and anguish as Pete is unwillingly thrust into the world of illegal immigrants, refugees and human trafficking. No wonder Don’t forget the Driver has won awards and already been commissioned by the BBC to make a return trip.
Don’t be fooled by the deceptively “ordinary” appearance of this drama: it is in fact extraordinary television on so many levels. As the hopeful tip basket on Peter’s coach gently reminds his passengers, don’t forget the driver. And definitely don’t forget to watch this one.
Don’t Forget the Driver is streaming now on BritBox.
Best in Paradise
(no, that’s not a typo)
The safest way to soak up some sun, sea and sand this summer
One of my (more recent) embarrassing moments started when I received an email from the lovely Madison at the BritBox press office in New York. She was excited about a new exclusive BritBox offering called Best in Paradise. That’s not right, I thought to myself, must be a typo.
“You mean Death in Paradise,” I politely corrected her.
No, she even more politely corrected me, this is a special treat for fans of the Caribbean crime series; the cast sharing their favorite episodes (that’s where the “Best” comes in).
Oops - the perils of a pun!
As aforementioned fans of the show will know, the tropical island of Saint-Marie has much in common with fellow fictional Midsomer and Carsley: seemingly idyllic, but the body-count per episode makes you think twice about wanting to live there. At least there’s some reassurance that when you are murdered in paradise, a team of provincial police officers led by a fish-out-of-water English/Irish detective will investigate and ultimately solve the mystery of your demise.
All nine series of Death in Paradise have proved hugely popular in the UK, regularly pulling in TV audiences of more than 8 million, and earning another spot in the top 10 most-watched programmes for the BBC. The show’s winning formula includes gentle cultural stereotypes (the bemusement of the laid-back locals towards the procedure-stickling, quirky Britishness of the DI), likeable characters, a lighthearted tone and crimes that are oh-so clever and complicated in a Columbo-esque sort of way.
Best in Paradise is a bit like a greatest hits pick (for us oldies) or a cast-created playlist (for anyone under the age of 40). It features the stars introducing a selection of their favourite episodes, spilling the beans on working with guest stars (look out for Neil Morrissey, Hugo Speer and Rupert Graves) secrets behind the stunts, and the real reason Kris Marshall had to cut his hair.
Having missed out on our summer hols this year, we’re all in need of a pick-me-up. What better way to escape reality and get a much-needed dose of sun, sand and sea. Binge the best bits of Death in Paradise and take a TV trip to gorgeous Saint-Marie (without the risk of actually being murdered).
Best in Paradise is streaming exclusively on BritBox.
Agatha Raisin on Acorn TV -
Miss Marple for the 21st Century
If you are a Brit telly addict like me, you’ll know full well that sleepy, picturesque English villages are a veritable hot hub of mystery and murder. Given that Midsomer has a higher homicide rate than downtown Chicago, it’s no surprise to discover that another fictional hamlet, Carsley, is the new crime capital of the Cotswolds. But only since Agatha Raisin set up shop, of course.
As a fan of detective shows, I must admit to really enjoying the wonderful Ashley Jensen in this quirky crime series, which has a refreshing dash of comedy too. With a subtle nod to the queen of mystery Agatha Christie, Ms Raisin is a bit of a modern-day Miss Marple, twenty-something years younger with fab hair, fab lipstick, fab outfits, fab shoes and even more fab handbags.
Agatha Raisin is a PR exec who, in true Escape to the Country style, quits her high-flying career and glam London lifestyle for early retirement and relocation to rural bliss. Once amongst the cute cottages, country pubs, cream teas and church fetes, Agatha befriends an eclectic collection of characters including eccentric villagers, the vicar and his wife and a rather charming aristocratic lord of the manor. She soon becomes an amateur sleuth solving murder mysteries that unfold around the annual quiche-making contest, rambler associations, bell-ringing groups and of course the WI, to name just a few.
The gentle humor, occasional slapstick and gorgeous scenery reminds me of Death in Paradise (minus the sun, sand and Caribbean Sea, of course). It’s all a bit camp, as sassy Aggie and her chums investigate mischief, mayhem and murder in a street-wise-savvy sort of way.
Agatha Raisin is a contemporary, witty whodunnit series that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
And that’s probably why I like it.
Agatha Raisin (series 1-3) is streaming exclusively on Acorn TV.
A feel-good footy film that’s touching, uplifting and beautifully written - this true story restores faith in the power of positivity.
Originally broadcast on BBC 2 and now streaming on Acorn TV, this feature-length biopic is a footy film (sort of) and yet so much more. Toby Jones plays the marvellous Neil Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties who lives with his mum, loves his budgies, and also has an incredible life. When Neil decides to do something, like being a circus clown, student greeter at Keele Uni, Tony Benn’s dinner guest at the Houses of Parliament, or joining the Oxbridge boat race and scoring a winning goal for his beloved Stoke City, he really means it. The only obstacles are those perceived by others, not Neil.
Based on the biography Marvellous, Neil’s story is told in a very gentle and sensitive way; it has moments that made me laugh out loud and moments that made me cry. Although there are a couple of cruel and sweary scenes, this is absolutely a movie about kindness, tenderness and acceptance.
Real Neil himself features in the film, explaining his thoughts to pretend Neil on a bus, while the real Lou Macari and real Gary Lineker also pop-up in cameo roles. Macari later said of the movie, “It’s the best 90 minutes Stoke City’s had for a long time”.
Neil’s innocence and positivity have an amazingly affirming effect on everyone he meets. His philosophy on life: “I’ve always wanted to be happy, so I decided to be.” Neil’s fearless optimism is an inspiration to us all, and just the tonic the world needs right now.
Marvellous is streaming now on Acorn TV.
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David Walliams’ family-friendly films -
perfect for a BritBox kid’s movie night
Comedy actor David Walliams is most famous for Little Britain, Come Fly with Me and (my absolute favourite) Big School, but he’s also a best-selling children’s author. In fact, his funny stories have become so popular with the little ones that Walliams has been hailed as the new Roald Dahl for the 21st century.
Several of his successful books have been adapted for telly by the BBC, so if you are looking for some brilliant films for the kids this summer, you’ll find two of Walliams’ funniest on Britbox:
This adaptation of Walliams’ novel is the story of 12-year old Joe and his dad Len, who get rich quick by inventing a new toilet roll - Bumfresh. Their sudden wealth gives them everything they could ever want - or does it?
The cast includes the fabulous Catherine Tate (who also starred with Walliams in Big School) as a glam 40-something hand model and Len’s new gold-digging girlfriend. Star Wars and Harry Potter actor Warwick Davis appears as himself in the role of Len and Joe’s celebrity butler. Opera-lovers will also enjoy a special cameo performance by Bryn Terfel. And look out for David Walliams playing Mrs Trafe, a dinner lady at Joe’s school who’s so not good at cooking.
In a BBC interview, Walliams said, “I am thrilled we have put together an all-star cast for this adaptation. The script is even bigger and better than the book”.
Billionaire Boy is a whimsical, heartfelt story about what’s really important in life. Not too moralistic or preachy, but there’s a big lesson to learn between the laughs.
Another Walliams’ novel adapted for telly, now streaming on BritBox.
The impressive cast includes Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville as a rather posh tramp befriended by a little girl called Chloe. Sheridan Smith is magnificent as Chloe’s snobby, overbearing, wannabe-MP mum, while Johnny Vegas plays a former rockstar turned henpecked husband and dad to Chloe and her overachieving sister. Once again, David Walliams makes a guest appearance, this time as the smarmy Prime Minister.
When the lonely Chloe invites the vagrant Mr. Stink to move into her garden shed, she soon sniffs a whiff of mystery around a man who thinks one bath a year is more than enough. It turns out this smelly squatter has a few secrets up his stinky sleeve.
I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as some of Walliams’ other stories, but it’s still a touching tale about empathy and friendship. Other themes include bullying, egotism, sibling rivalry and homelessness, but in the usual kid-friendly-Walliams’ style, these are sensitively wrapped in gentle humor. Overall, it reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
Both of these made-for-TV movies have a bit of a Christmassy feel, but not too much, meaning these films can still be enjoyed by the whole family all year round.
Also recommended - my personal favourite of all Walliams kid’s stories, available on DVD and in paperback:
Brits in America -
Living the Dream on BritBox
(This review contains spoilers)
As we love anything starring Philip Glenister (who could forget the infamous Gene Hunt in Life on Mars ?), hubby and I were really excited to discover Living the Dream on BritBox. And having binge-watched season 1 already, we can honestly say this is the best telly we’ve seen in ages.
Living the Dream is a Brit comedy series following the Pemberton family from rainy Yorkshire as they sell up and move across the pond to sunny Florida. Like many real-life expats, the fictional Pembertons are thrilled to discover that living in America means a big house, a big car, a big bed and a big refrigerator.
“I love this fridge!” Mal Pemberton (Glenister) gushes in the shiny new kitchen of his massive new home.
Jen, the mum played by Lesley Sharp, grudgingly agrees to blend in with Stateside suburbia by getting all glammed-up, Desperate Housewife-style. And the teenage kids get their first taste of American high school, where football and soccer are two different sports and the Pledge of Allegiance is a daily requirement. Yes, this is the world of country clubs, evangelical churches and purity pacts, as well as mosquitoes, gators, vampire weddings and tornadoes.
Mal and Jen find themselves running a rundown caravan (RV trailer) park, home to an eclectic group of eccentric residents who are not exactly thrilled to meet their new owners. The redneck manager informs Mal, “I ain’t workin’ for no Australians!” as he promptly quits on day one. And due to the terms of their investor visa, if they fail to make a success of the park, the Pemberton’s immigration status will be revoked, sending them back to Blighty before you can say “Bless their hearts”. No pressure then.
This is a very funny and heartwarming tale of culture clashes and stiff-upper-lip Britishness as Mal and his family fight to make their American dream come true. The cast also includes Kevin Nash who plays the giant Troy (standing at an intimidating 6ft 10, Troy revels in towering over Mal) and Jimmy Akingbola (who previously worked with Glenister on Big School) as a fellow Brit investor. And for anyone wondering about the filming location, there’s a little bit of fake news going on here: season 1 was actually shot near beautiful Savannah, so it’s really Georgia pretending to be Florida. (Eagle-eyed viewers will spot the distinctive Talmadge Memorial Bridge in several scenes, which is a big giveaway.)
But as we watched, the Georgia connection wasn’t the only thing that resonated with hubby and I. As Brit expats living in the Deep South ourselves, there was so much of the Pemberton’s experience we could relate to. From constantly getting into the wrong side of the car to compliments on our “Australian” accents and the funny looks we get for using a knife and fork at the same time, this was all so spookily familiar. And just like Mal and Jen, hubby and I often have to pinch ourselves: even after all these years, we still can’t quite believe we are actually Living the (American) Dream.
The final episode of season 1 culminates with the Pembertons and the trailer park residents together singing an amusing mash-up of God Save the Queen and My Country Tis of Thee. A fitting tribute to Anglo-American relations and the perfect end to this brilliant first series.
Highly recommended for expats
(and everyone else).
Living the Dream
seasons 1 & 2
streaming on BritBox
For everyone who has kids,
and everyone who doesn’t.
So basically, everyone then.
Looking for a way to stop scams forever? Joe Lycett has the answer! Most of his material is based around sending emails and texts, and I just love his delivery (excuse the pun!).
Living and loving life
in America - by a blogging Brit.
I am a wife, teacher & writer originally from the UK.
Now metro Atlanta is