When film viewing is like having your head baked into a giant loaf of bread

Peter Bradshaw's review of <em>John</em> Carter must be a contender for the harshest criticism of 20

In today's Guardian, Peter Bradshaw offers his impressions of new sci-fi flick John Carter. Might just be me but I don't think he liked it that much:

John Carter is one of those films that is so stultifying, so oppressive and so mysteriously and interminably long that I felt as if someone had dragged me into the kitchen of my local Greggs, and was baking my head into the centre of a colossal cube of white bread. As the film went on, the loaf around my skull grew to the size of a basketball, and then a coffee table, and then an Audi. The boring and badly acted sci-fi mashup continued inexorably, and the bready blandness pressed into my nostrils, eardrums, eye sockets and mouth. I wanted to cry for help, but in bread no one can hear you scream. Finally, I clawed the doughy, gooey, tasteless mass desperately away from my mouth and screeched: "Jesus, I'm watching a pointless film about a 1860s American civil war action hero on Mars, which the inhabitants apparently call Barsoom. I can't breathe."

Last month, my colleague Jonathan Derbyshire attended the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Awards, set up to award the "author of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months". One must wonder whether this has started a race towards the harshest commentary. In keeping with the trend, this week's NS includes a comphrensive take down of A N Wilson's Hitler: a short biography by Richard J Evans, including the line: "It's hard to think why a publishing house that once had a respected history list agreed to produce this travesty of a biography".

Have you seen a worse review than Bradshaw's take on John Carter? Suggestions in the comment box below.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit