It’s hard work having fun: Wives Like Us, by Plum Sykes, reviewed

Just when you thought the Cotswolds must have peaked as a fictional setting, a new rom-com from the author of Bergdorf Blondes floats like cherry blossom onto a chalk stream. Plum Sykes has chosen a rich (as in minted) target, and she is well-equipped to take aim. As a former contributing editor of American Vogue, she might be considered part of the trans-atlantic glossy posse, but at heart she’s still an Oxford-educated Sykes – with a certain diplomatic heritage. The family seat is the magnificent Sledmere in Yorkshire, which has its own blue-tiled Turkish Room. So Plum is not your common-or-garden mag hag. But she now lives in the ’wolds,

On the brink of delivering something special: Sky’s The Midwich Cuckoos reviewed

A youngish couple leave London and drive off excitedly to make a fresh start in more rural surroundings. They demonstrate their happiness by laughing all the way to their new town, where a cheery sign on the outskirts reads: ‘Welcome to Midwich’. So what could possibly go wrong? In fact, even for viewers unfamiliar with John Wyndham’s famously spooky 1957 novel, from which Sky Max’s modern-day version of The Midwich Cuckoos has been adapted, it’s clear that something soon will. After all, a pre-credit sequence, set five years later, had shown the same couple cowering in fear before their five-year-old daughter. For now, though, while they marvelled at the idyllic

Abramovich sanctioned for ‘destabilising Ukraine’

Following criticism in recent weeks that the UK government has lagged behind both the US and the EU when it comes to sanctioning oligarchs, this morning the Foreign Office announced fresh sanctions for seven businessmen with alleged links to Vladimir Putin. On that list is Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. The billionaire Chelsea FC owner is among those to have their assets frozen and facing a travel ban. Others on the list include Igor Sechin, Oleg Deripaska, Andrey Kostin, Alexei Miller, Nikolai Tokarev and Dmitri Lebedev – with the justification for each sanction available here. In the case of Abramovich, the UK government says that he has been ‘involved in

The downfall of Russia’s oligarchs

The normal justification for sanctioning oligarchs is that doing so will cost them money, causing them to put pressure on Vladimir Putin so he stops killing Ukrainians. But this rests on the untested assumption that they are able to put pressure on him, and that is where the plan is currently falling down. Oligarchs are not what they used to be. Our idea of the Russian oligarch was born in the 1990s, when a tiny group of men emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet economy, using their nous to seize anything with real value. While the Russian government was left with all the costly bits of the communist state

Moscow rules in London: how Putin’s agents corrupted the British elite

In the past year alone, Russia-watchers have been treated to books entitled The Code of Putinism; Putin’s World; Putin vs the People; The Putin System and We Need to Talk About Putin — just to mention the ones with Putin’s name in the title. In addition, Robert Service’s Kremlin Winter, Sergei Medvedev’s The Return of the Russian Leviathan and Andrew Monaghan’s Dealing with the Russians have also offered their own insights into the history, politics and future of Putin’s Russia. In this crowded field, is there a place for Putin’s People? Happily, there is. Catherine Belton is a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times — and before that worked

An extraordinary tale: BBC2’s The Countess and the Russian Billionaire reviewed

There can’t be many programmes that bring to mind quotations from both Henry Kissinger and Boney M., but BBC2’s The Countess and the Russian Billionaire was one of them. While Kissinger’s idea that ‘power is the ultimate aphrodisiac’ may be a little out of fashion in the #MeToo age, it was hard not to think it played a part in the eye-popping events that Wednesday’s documentary laid out with some relish. As for Boney M., rarely has ‘Oh, those Russians’ from ‘Rasputin’ felt so penetratingly insightful. The programme began filming in 2015, with the apparent aim of providing a ringside seat at a fight between an excitingly wealthy British-based couple