Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

  Comedy

Chris Tucker, London, Hammersmith Apollo, London W6, 24-28 November
The actor and comedian returns to the stand-up comedy circuit after a five-year absence with a world tour beginning at the capital’s Hammersmith Apollo. A man who was given a record-breaking $25 million for the third Rush Hour film, Tucker’s absence comes to an end with the tour and his role in Silver Linings Playbook, out now. The comedian first started doing stand-up after graduating from high school and during the 1990s frequently performed on HBO series, Def Comedy Jam.

Film

Iranian Film Festival, until 23 November, London
The third annual Iranian film festival in London concludes its run with feature film, The Last Step and other short films. Directed by and starring Ali Mostafa, the surreal film sees a man die and stay on screen, offering observations to his film star wife. For the first time, the festival will be followed up with regular screenings in London next year of the best of Persian cinema. My Persian Nights will bring films from the middle eastern country to London in overnight, outdoor and drive-in shows next year.

Art

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Tate Modern, London SE1, until 17 February 2013
Don’t miss this chance to see one of the most renowned British artists of the past century on show at Tate Britain. Ian Hamilton-Finlay was a concrete poet before he became an artist, and throughout his career the two art forms have remained inseparable –whether he was inscribing text onto stones, crafting hand-made books or cultivating his masterpiece artist’s garden, Little Sparta. Twenty-four of his works are currently omn display in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain, in materials varying from classical bronze and ceramic to electric neon.

Dance

Unleashed, Barbican Centre, London EC2, 23-24 November
More than a year on from the London riots, there is still no definitive understanding of what caused them. Adding a new dimension to the barrage of media commentary which accompanied the outbursts, Unleashed is a theatre show that explores the hopes, fears and lifestyles of the riot-generation.
Made by the Young People of Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning and Blue Boy Entertainment, this art-council funded show combines music, dance and poetry in a high-energy exploration of what it means to be a young person living in London today. This is guaranteed to be your only chance this year to tackle the question of cuts, jobs and David Cameron via the medium of break dancing.

Literary

Book Slam Launch II, Rough Trade East, London E1, 28 November
London’s finest literary salon presents some of our best comics, writers, musicians, plus shining greats of the Twittersphere. Scriptwriting legend Jesse Armstrong has writing credits for almost every television show worth watching - Peep Show, The Thick of It, Fresh Meat and Four Lions. He will be speaking alongside the delightful Salena Godden, as well as comedian Peter Serafinowicz. Music is provided from the 25-piece Basement Orchestra.

Ian Hamilton Finlay, A Wartime Garden (collaboration with John Andrew, 1989) © The estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay
BBC
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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