Tom hollander

Let’s twist again

What’s the best way to start a six-part thriller? The answer, it seems, is to have a bloke of a certain age pottering about at home when he’s suddenly and shockingly murdered by asphyxiation. You then roll the opening credits, forget about the dead guy and introduce the main character, who’s asked to take part in some sort of mission — and agonises about whether to accept or to leave the whole series somewhat stranded. At least, this is exactly what happened in both of this week’s big new Sunday-night dramas: BBC1’s Baptiste and Channel 4’s Traitors. In Baptiste, the pre-credits murder was of an apparently harmless shell-collector in Deal

Box of tricks

Travesties is a multi-layered confection of art, song, literature and pastiche. Tiny snippets of it are true. In Zurich, in 1917, James Joyce directed a production of The Importance of Being Earnest featuring a British diplomat, Henry Carr, in the role of Algy. Joyce and Carr fell out over the costume budget and became embroiled in a brief legal wrangle. That’s the starting-point for Tom Stoppard’s dazzling intellectual pantomime which features cameos from Lenin and Tristan Tzara, both residents of Zurich at the time. Tzara was an experimental vandal whose penchant for slicing sonnets into pieces was taken up by copycats and flowered, or degenerated, into the Dada movement. Lenin,

One night in the backwoods

When I was 38, I let a drunk pick me up in a bar. You know, just to see if I still had it. It was raining. It was a November evening, and I was somewhere in the backwoods of the Adirondacks. I was driving from Rhode Island to Toronto, staying in motels. Taking my time. Getting lost. His name was Billy Ray and he was from the south. The land of Spanish moss and blurred boundaries and antique sentences delivered in a languid drawl. Beautifully dressed, an elegantly ruined bachelor of 48, he looked 65. He said he was related to the man who had invented Coca-Cola and had

Just what the doctor ordered

Every now and then, a costume drama comes along that’s so daringly unconventional as to make us re-examine our whole idea of what the form can achieve. ITV’s Doctor Thorne, though, isn’t one of them. Instead, Julian Fellowes’s adaptation of Anthony Trollope observes the usual rules with almost pathological fidelity. Extras dance gamely in ballrooms, scheming matriarchs stand in the way of sweet young lovers and characters express deep fury with the words, ‘Good day to you, madam.’ In the first scene, we even had a handy refresher on the genre’s use of hats as a social signifier. (Basically, toppers for the toffs, peaks for the proles.) The title role

Northern exposure | 3 March 2016

Some things I have learned about Iceland after watching six episodes of Trapped (BBC4, Saturdays). 1. They seem to feel much the same way towards the Danes as the Irish or the Scots do towards the English. 2. Some typical Icelandic first names: Andri, Ásgeir, Dagný, Hjörtur, Hrafn, Þórhildur. But even if you did Anglo-Saxon at university and know what a ‘thorn’ looks like, they’re still pronounced nothing like they’re spelt. 3. They drink more coffee than booze, even at night. Only tourists, millionaires and politicians can afford alcohol. 4. If it weren’t for the excitement provided by the swimming-pool, the kids in remote Icelandic towns would die of boredom.

So Dylan Thomas was a drunk: does this TV drama have anything else to say?

According to its executive producer Griff Rhys Jones, A Poet in New York (BBC2, Sunday) sought to rescue Dylan Thomas from the ‘forces of sanctity and hagiography that now hover over his shade’. Instead, we’d be reminded that he was ‘a hollering bohemian roustabout’ — which is presumably Griff’s longhand for ‘a drunk’. By that measure, the programme was a triumphant success, even if fewer people may have been startled by the revelation of Thomas’s booziness than Griff seems to think. As a piece of television, though, it suffered badly from the decision to concentrate on Thomas’s alcohol-laden final days in New York, which inevitably led to a lack of

The summer of love

Last time I was allowed to write a story for The Spectator, I managed to get away with a frankly smutty and boastful piece about sex. Well, it’s been a while, so… I do hope nobody minds if I do that again. If I’m honest, when young, one of the reasons I decided to mortgage my life to showbiz was because I thought that if I did, I would get more than my fair share of bedroom action. Hang on. Sorry, not more than my fair share. (I must stop putting myself down.) Firstly, as we all know there is no such thing as fair in these matters; very attractive