River (BBC/Netflix Original 2015)

5 Kernels


Stars: Stellan Skarsgard, Nicola Walker, Lesley Manville

Binge watching is no doubt bad for your health.  Sitting for hours in front of the television.  Snacking on ice cream, popcorn, tea, toast, and whatever else you pop up and run to the fridge for between episodes.  However, when you’re sucked into a program, waiting for the next episode is just too damn hard.

Be forewarned this could happen to you if you tune in and watch River now streaming on Netflix.  You may end up on your derriere for hours watching this show in order to find out the secret behind the death of Detective Sergeant Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson, played by Nicola Walker (who you probably know better from Last Tango in Halifax).

Stellan Skarsgard, an excellent actor who I’ve seen in other roles, plays Stevie’s partner, DI John River.  He witnesses his partner getting shot in the head in the middle of the street and spends the remainder of the show attempting to unravel the reason why.  However, River is a troubled man with a strange psychological problem.  He is haunted by manifestations of people who have died in previous investigations. If that isn’t bad enough, he is mentally tortured by his dark, characteristic inner self (played by Eddie Marsan), which nearly pushes him to the brink of insanity.

River, however, is a brilliant detective.  Stevie’s death drives him to find her killer at any cost, while her manifestation accompanies him during the entire process.  The story, well-written, with in-depth characters and twists and turns throughout, carries its audience on a tale with a surprising end.  He is fortunate enough that his work-place psychologist, who is helping him through his grief, passes him in his evaluation to continue his investigation.  All the while, she knows he sees manifestations of dead people.

Side plots include River’s boss, played by Lesley Manville, who you will instantly recognize from North & South as Margaret Hale’s mother. Her performance here is quite different as a driven woman in the police force, whose portrayal is top notch.

The show is well worth the watch at a healthy pace or binge watching.  As you know, I love British crime series, and this one goes to the top of my list.  Excellent story.  Stellar acting.  Engrossing story.  Well done, BBC.

The Railway Man (Movie 2013)

Stars: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada (after the war); Jeremy Irvine, Sam Reid, Tanroh Ishida (during the war)

This evening I saw The Railway Man, which is still showing in a few theaters in my area. The movie is filled with Oscar worthy performances that are by far the best I have seen this year.
Let me preface this review by saying that the story is an emotionally charged depiction of war, some of which you may find deeply disturbing. The movie includes scenes of torture, beatings, captivity, and inhumane treatment.  Nevertheless, it is well worth the watch.  I saw it on a Friday night at 7:30 p.m., and there were a whopping seven people in the theater, all of which were my generation or older. Everybody else packed the fantasy movies, leaving the reality plenty of space. That tidbit of information leads me to my next thought.
As the generation of those who fought in WW2 die and are buried, I often think that new generations will never fully comprehend or appreciate what their parents or grandparents sacrificed to win this war. During the Second World War, over 60 million people were killed worldwide. It is termed the deadliest conflict in human history. In another twenty years from now, will we remember those who suffered–both military and civilian? Will the new generations even care?
Today, people are deeply entrenched in a make-believe, comic world of super heroes, endowed with special powers who save the day. It is fantasy and not the reality of true human suffering and sacrifice. The Railway Man is a stark reminder of what it means to be a hero regardless of the horrendous treatment received at the hands of the enemy.
Okay, I’m off my soapbox and onto the review.
The film is an adaptation of an autobiography of a British officer (Eric Lomax), who was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. He was captured when Singapore fell to the Japanese, and became part of a group of soldiers who were forced to help build the Thai-Berma Railway.
The movie is set during 1980, with multiple flashbacks to what occurred during WW2. Eric Lomax, played by Colin Firth as the elder character, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Though it has been decades since the war ended, he still suffers flashbacks of the torture he endured at the hands of the Japanese. He meets with others in his unit who survived the POW camp, but no one ever talks about what happened.
Lomax discovers that the Japanese translator who aided in his torture is alive. To his shock, he manages the war museum where he was held prisoner. To end the psychological torment he still endures, Lomax goes to see him for the purpose of revenge. When he meets his enemy, he discovers the man of today is not the enemy of yesterday. 
As far as performances, I was frankly astounded by Colin Firth’s portrayal as the older Lomax, and Jeremy Irvine as the younger Lomax. I would be extremely surprised if nominations are not forthcoming for this movie or its actors.
For me, it was a five star movie. It will leave you in tears and perhaps give you a ray of hope that after the most trying of circumstances, there can still be peace and forgiveness between enemies.