Viewer’s Discretion: ‘A Very English Scandal’ and ‘Calibre’


‘A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL’ (AMAZON)

Much more than the sum of its parts — and boasting parts that are considerable indeed — the three-part “A Very English Scandal” recollects true crime and political corruption in England to tell a much more important tale about repression and hate, and how these two aspects of society crush down on real human beings and lead to terrible actions. And it does so with a stabbing narrative delivered through some remarkable performances.

British Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) is a rising star and he embraces that role with the vigor of someone who is destined and expected to play it. The public persona of politician Jeremy Thorpe is exactly who he is, carefully crafted and entirely crafty. But Thorpe has a secret — he is gay — and he indulges in that part of himself in secret, careful to play his public role to perfection and not let the two worlds collide.That changes when he meets stable boy Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw), with whom he conducts an affair.

Scott becomes a bit like a kept man and represents everything Thorpe is not — gentle, naive, sincere and not guarded in his presentation. But the relationship between the two men spirals out of control when Scott loses and seeks Thorpe’s help for an insurance card, which he lost and can’t get employment without. As the truth threatens to come out into the open, Thorpe engages in conspiratorial cover-ups and even murder plots to silence his former lover, while Scott keeps hesitatingly upping the level of his pursuit of the insurance card to the point that it does endanger Thorpe’s career.

The series unfolds as a hilarious satire of the repressed society it presents, with completely exquisite performances by Grant and Whishaw, as well as the supporting cast. But there is much more than amusement as its goal. By the time the situation comes to a standstill, you’ve also been offered a heart-breaking examination of the consequences of that repressed society. Rather than just making Thorpe a completely stereotyped villain, you begin to understand him. Rather than laughing about Scott’s cheeky demeanor, you admire him. Rather than shrugging it all off as one of those things, you see the deep destruction homophobia brings to a culture, how it causes the victims of it to rip each other apart, to walk in darkness and fear, to self-destruct.

“A Very English Scandal” is one of those rare works of television that will crack you up and punch you in the gut, especially when you realize that the painful parts of the presentation are still only too relevant today, even though we’ve come so far.


‘CALIBRE’ (NETFLIX)

Taking place almost entirely in rural Scotland, this tense film thriller from first-time feature director Matt Palmer provides excellent foreboding moments while cutting right through the tropes of city people trapped in an isolated area.Vaughan (Jack Lowden), a soon-to-be father, is on a bonding vacation with his old schoolmate Martin (Martin McCann).

They head to the north of Scotland for a hunting weekend that hearkens back to their school days when they took marksman lessons together. An evening out for a drink at the local pub shows they don’t intend to navigate the village society, but rather barrel in and heed no warnings.

This wouldn’t be a movie if something didn’t go horribly awry or if the pair handled their emergency with calm, good sense, and so heightened emotions send them hurtling toward the inevitable.However, the inevitable isn’t quite what we expect. “Calibre” skillfully incorporates prompts from the folk horror genre, best exemplified by 1973’s “The Wicker Man,” in which a city policeman is called to an island to investigate a disappearance. As in all folk horror tales, there are secrets among the locals, ancient secrets that will play out in the fates of the visitors.

Instead, “Calibre” honors your expectations and alters them at the same time, creating a less romantic, less cloying and definitely less insulting vision of rural communities. It touches on the concept that divisions are so large that stereotyping has become the norm and has created a dynamic where the urban feeds off the rural. It’s the cities that are the monsters here, the vampires sucking the life out of the villages. “Calibre” makes great use of its evocative locations, dark and majestic, and offers a vision of people in touch with the landscape, but not enslaved by it, only asking for what is rightfully theirs — survival.


Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.

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