Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

The dark side of Ted Lasso

You’ll know where you are with Ted Lasso – the third season of which has just started on Apple TV – as soon as you hear the Marcus Mumford co-written theme song. It peddles a sort of sub-Coldplay uplift, with a lot of big, meaningless anthemic ‘yeah’s in the chorus. Bright, accessible, catchy and instantly forgettable, you

The perverse and addictive appeal of Netflix’s You

In our risk-averse, deeply fearful age, the idea of one of the most popular shows on any streaming service being a black comedy about a serial killer who has an unfortunate penchant for murdering the women he falls in love with might be something of a tough sell. But the bloody exploits of Joe Goldberg,

Succession and the rise of ‘eat the rich’ entertainment

Farces, satires and straight slapstick comedies about extremely wealthy people have made popular entertainment for centuries. In film, the most notable example is Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939), in which a group of upper-middle-class French people gather at swanky events, culminating in an affair that ends in a mistaken identity shotgun death, one that

Plot twist: the 10 most surprising Best Picture Oscar winners

The received wisdom that the Oscar for Best Picture always goes to mainstream, generally inoffensive ‘quality’ pictures is only partially true. There have been multiple exceptions to this – and increasingly so over recent years, with an influx of younger Academy voters and a desire to be seen as more progressive than in the past.

The legacy of Chaim Topol

In 1969, for my seventh birthday, I was taken – dragged, probably – ‘up west’ to the theatre to see a musical. As I recall, it didn’t fill me with joy to be going, but it turned out to be fantastic. The songs, the acting, the dancing: it was great fun. Then we went for

Bored of the Rings: the Tolkien industry has gone far enough

In 1969, Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney, future founders of National Lampoon, published a satirical takedown of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, entitled Bored of the Rings. It holds up remarkably well today as a closely observed parody of Tolkien’s more windy stylistic tics. One critic, David Bratman, remarked: ‘Those parodists wrought better than they knew. I think it

What to watch on Netflix (while we can still share passwords)

If you share a Netflix account with a friend, relative, colleague, in-law, neighbour or ex whose password you happened to crack, your viewing days may be numbered. The streaming service is planning to fight back against password-sharing – by charging an extra fee to subscribers who let friends and family from other households use their

The dangerous myth-making in the Banshees of Inisherin

I never made it to the end of Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, which won four Baftas on Sunday and has been tipped for further success at the Oscars next month. Inisherin is a fictional place that apparently translates as ‘Island Ireland’. I know it’s probably churlish of me, but, being Irish, I was

Why hasn’t the Scream franchise been killed off?

In December 1996, audiences lining up to see a teen horror picture starring Drew Barrymore, from the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, got the shock of their lives. Not only was Barrymore, the best-known actor in the film, murdered in the first 15 minutes, but the opening set-piece was arguably the most shocking moment

The tragedy of Fawlty Towers

The secret of any great sitcom is the delicate balance of sit and com. Mess the ‘sit’ bit up and you lose the ‘com’. Del Boy without Nelson Mandela House is as unthinkable as Alan Partridge without his ‘grief hole’ (aka the Linton Travel Tavern), which is why both of these characters eventually came unstuck. Sending

10 romcoms that are actually worth watching

The romcom genre has a decidedly mixed record, often becoming a lazy way for stars to cash in on their popularity – with less than loveable results. Witness the career of Matthew McConaughey, which could have been described as ‘Death by romcom’ (Failure to Launch, The Wedding Planner, Fool’s Gold etc) until his 2011 comeback

Julie Burchill

Madonna and the curious business of biopics

Reading that Madonna has decided to cancel the film about her life that she has been working on for the past two years, I felt a pang of sorrow. The biopic sounded like the biggest vanity project ever attempted – and thus promised to be an excellent ‘mock-watch’, as I’ve named the cinematic equivalent of

The Whale is a work of art

If the 20th century was the age of the common man, the 21st is the age of the common man’s confounding. Between shambolic politics, culture wars and actual war, nothing is turning out quite as well as anyone expected. What was meant to be an era of freedom and enlightenment seems to have become the

Is Amazon wasting Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s talents?

The Tomb Raider franchise seems to have been a graveyard for oddly overqualified people. Angelina Jolie played the character of Lara Croft twice after winning an Oscar, and subsequently Alicia Vikander gave the English aristocrat-turned-global adventurer a go. Neither left much of a mark – which is why it is all the more surprising that Fleabag creator and star

The Last of Us is a video game adaptation that actually works

The Last of Us may be remembered as the point when Hollywood’s approach to video game adaptations finally changed. In this, it’s as significant a creative development as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was in creating a new formula for Marvel superhero movies. The series, which began on Sky Atlantic last week, is set 20 years after a

Don’t bring back Frasier

At the end of the Frasier theme song, its star Kelsey Grammer always sang the words: ‘Frasier has left the building!’ And when the show finished in 2004, it felt as if Frasier, Niles, Daphne, Martin, Roz and the rest had indeed left the building. In truth, the popular programme did not end in glory. Ever since Niles

Why Avatar 2 has confounded the critics

The pundits called it long ago: Avatar 2: The Way of Water was going to be a flop. They did allow that betting against the so-called ‘king of the world’ James Cameron was rash – after all, Titanic and the first Avatar film overcame almost hysterically negative buzz in order to become box office behemoths. But there were too many reasons

In defence of Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse

British writer Graham Hancock has riled the archaeology community with his Netflix documentary, Ancient Apocalypse. The series follows Hancock to ancient sites around the world in pursuit of proof that an advanced human civilisation existed thousands of years before the first cities of Mesopotamia. Hancock, a former Economist correspondent, argues that most archaeologists are too

James Delingpole

The Spectator’s best TV shows of the year

The Offer (Paramount Plus) Even when you know the ending, this ten-part drama about the making of The Godfather, seen from the perspective of novice producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller), is outrageously gripping, gorgeously evocative of louche, cocktail-drenched late 1960s Hollywood, wittily scripted and superbly acted. Matthew Goode is especially watchable as superproducer Robert

Films to watch out for in 2023

It would be fair to say 2022 was not a vintage year in cinema, reflected in UK box office receipts which remain around a third below the pre-pandemic year of 2019. That’s not to say there weren’t some enjoyable releases (such as The Banshees of Inisherin, Triangle of Sadness and The Northman) – but the

The Spectator’s best films of 2022

Banshees of Inisherin: a magnificent cinematic metaphor The In Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh has made another film starring Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson which, this time, is set in 1923 on the tiny Irish island of Inisherin. Colm (Gleeson) and Padraic (Farrell) are lifelong pals and drinking buddies until Colm abruptly decides that’s it, friendship over, and

Forget Love Actually: the best alternative Christmas films

It’s become one of the traditions of the modern festive period: arguing about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The explosive 1988 film features, you may recall, a vest-clad Bruce Willis confounding Alan Rickman and his terrorist cohorts’ evil plans in a Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas Eve – and it’s peppered throughout with fir

Peace on Earth? 10 films about Christmas on the front line

Christmas may ostensibly be a time of goodwill to all men, but war rarely takes a break for the festive season – as events in Ukraine sadly demonstrate. Here are ten films set during Yuletide where the front line is front and centre: Castle Keep (1968) – Amazon Rent/Buy Sydney Pollack’s (Three Days of the Condor)

The pick of this year’s Christmas TV

Has a certain media mogul had a visit from three ghosts recently? I only ask as this year’s Sky Christmas schedule is so packed with treats and big-hitters that it can’t possibly be explained by hard-nosed commercialism. An outbreak of sudden seasonal generosity seems to be the only explanation. Whatever has triggered Sky’s largesse, the

The best Oscar Wilde films

It is 122 years this week since Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde died – in exile, poverty and disgrace – at Paris’s shabby St Germain Hôtel d’Alsace. His last words were said to be: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us must go.’ Despite Wilde’s precipitous fall from

On the trail of Gomorrah in Naples

‘Isn’t Naples beautiful? I’ve always dreamt about it. I always wanted this city all for myself; I didn’t want to share it… I alone deserved it because of everything I lost and I would have done anything to get it.’ So says Ciro Di Marzio – nicknamed ‘the immortal’ because he has survived so much

Why David Bowie was the model of a Renaissance Englishman

It’s hard to imagine how baffled the British public must have been by the arrival of David Bowie on to TV screens in the early 1970s. With his saffron hair, make-up and androgynous clothes, superficially he looked like a rejection of everything his post-war south London childhood had taught him. One of the most pivotal

Time to check out: hotel horrors on screen

From Fawlty Towers to Psycho, hotel horrors have long provided a rich seam of material for big screen and small. HBO’s The White Lotus, which returns to Sky Atlantic tonight for its second series, swept the board at last month’s Emmys, with ten wins in the limited series category for its sharp social satire set at an upmarket

Why the best horror films are silent

He is completely bald but his eyebrows are grotesquely hirsute; his ears and chin are both weirdly elongated, as are his bony fingers; and as he creeps up the stairs towards the bedroom of a young woman in white, his hunched frame casts a sinister shadow. Count Orlok in Nosferatu is as instantly recognisable a cinematic figure