DVD News: Hostages – The Complete Season One

24 Feb

Arrow Films has announced the Monday 23rd March DVD box set release of the complete season one of the nail-biting and gripping, Israeli psychological thriller Hostages.

Filmed on location in modern-day Jerusalem, the series currently airs on BBC Four at 9pm on Saturday evenings – the same coveted prime time slot that played host to The KillingBorgen, and The Bridge.

The 10-part Israeli series is an intense, modern-day psychological crime-thriller that will leave viewers on the edge of their seat.  A brilliant female surgeon, Dr. Yael Danon(played by Ayelet Zurer), discovers her family have been kidnapped the night before she is due to perform surgery on the Israeli Prime Minister. The hostage-holders have one demand: “Kill the PM on the operating table or her loved ones die.”

Gripping” – The Times


Hostages is nearer the high octane thrills of Homeland.” – The Guardian Guide


“When they turn up the tension, it doesn’t disappoint.” – Daily Mail

The original Israeli series of Hostages was a massive hit in its native Israel, and follows the US adaptation that was shown on Channel 4 in 2014, starring Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott.

Hostages – The Complete Season One can be pre-ordered from Amazon:

Totally Serialized – Interview with Caroline Proust

20 Feb


Caroline Proust, star of Spiral, visited Institut Francais and revealed behind-the-scenes secrets of France’s most successful police series to more than 200 fans.

Frequently compared to The Wire, Spiral’s hard-edged view of French policing introduced British audiences to Gallic Noir. Now in its fifth season, a sixth will be produced later this year, this gritty drama tackles issues facing contemporary France through the eyes of its justice system.

The latest series has been the most successful to date in the UK. Critics have responded with levels of fervour not seen since The Bridge and ratings have topped the million mark.


Making her début at a British event, a visibly delighted Proust admitted to being surprised at Spiral’s popularity in Britain.

‘We just knew that there’s been a million viewers for this season,’ she says. ‘Gregory (Fitoussi – Pierre Clément) told me. He worked here on Mr Selfridge and he told me that it was a big success here.’

Fresh from delivering a masterclass on how the show is made and her approach to playing Laure. Proust posed for photographs and signed autographs for over 200 fans.

She recently joined Facebook and has connected with over 3,000 enthusiasts.

‘I opened a Facebook account because I wanted to know what was happening in other countries,’ she explains. ‘This is very interesting for me to hear from Italian, Greek, American, and English fans. There are many English fans.’


A classically trained actor, Proust was primarily known for her work on the stage when she joined the series. In between seasons she returns to the theatre. Would she be interested in appearing in the West End?

‘I would really like to do that. Maybe I can come with a French play. I came years ago with the play Game of Love and Chance.’

Spiral’s popularity is on the rise. Might now be the time to capitalise on its success and make a feature film?

‘We were wondering. The producer asked us if we want to do a cinema movie. First time we said yes, yes we want to do that and we said I don’t know if it’s a good idea,’ she says. ‘The thing which is very interesting is that you can show how complex human beings are. In the movie you only have one and a half hours.’


Institut Francais have posted a podcast containing extracts from Caroline Proust and Anne Landois’ panels:

For information about future events please contact:

Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515


Spiral – Series 5 can be ordered from Amazon:

Event Review: Totally Serialized – Decrypting Spiral

5 Feb


Shining a light onto the finest TV currently being produced on both sides of the English Channel, Totally Serialized returned to Institute Francais for a fourth season of discussions and exclusive premières.

Launching three days of festivities, Spiral’s showrunner Anne Landois spoke to James Rampton from The Independent about her career, how the series is made, and its popularity in France and the UK.

Now in its tenth year of production, Spiral is seen in 75 countries. Created by Alexandra Clert and Guy-Patrick Sainderichin for French cable network Canal+, it’s the station’s longest running drama series. Transforming the network’s fortunes, it re-positioned the station into a French equivalent of HBO. Seen in 75 countries, Spiral is the most widely sold series in the history of French television.

Canal+  is committed to ensuring the programme has a long-term future. A sixth season has been commissioned and is due to go into production later this year.

Writing professionally since 1996, Anne Landois joined Spiral’s scripting team for the third season. The series currently airing on BBC Four is her first as head writer.

With a track record for writing series and TV movies grounded in realism alongside a long-term interest in policing and judicial process, Landois was a perfect choice to become the new creative force behind Spiral.

As showrunner Landois oversees the series’ artistic vision. In conjunction with a co-writer she crafts a detailed document that encapsulates the season’s main story, subplots, and character developments. This blueprint is then distributed to writers of individual episodes.

The production team uses a core group of advisers comprising police officers, lawyers, and judges throughout the scripting to guarantee the series is rooted in reality. Anne acknowledged the importance of consultants and emphasised the need to have good writers on board to create gripping drama.

Asked how writing has changed this season Landois replied that over the last decade viewers had become close to the main characters and now was the time to concentrate on their personal stories.

She compared the officers interrelationship to a blended family with Laure Berthaud as a surrogate matriarch of the household.

French television drama is currently experiencing a creative renaissance. In addition to Spiral, Braquo, Hard, JO, Maison Close, and The Returned have enjoyed success and acclaim outside of France. Anne said that French drama had been asleep but is now wide awake. The industry has studied shows coming out of English speaking territories, learning techniques in production and applying the lessons to home-grown series.

Explaining how a series is scripted and produced, Landois provided an accessible account of a showrunner’s working methods and differences between French and British television cultures. Fans of Spiral left Institute Francais with an enhanced appreciation of the writer’s craft and an increased understanding of the many production decisions that are made to bring their favourite French crime show to the screen.

For information about future events please contact:

Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515 – http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/


Event Review: William Boyd & Marc Dugain – The Great War, Memory & Fiction

28 Jan


Commemorating the centenary of the First World War Institute Francais invited a pair of acclaimed writers to talk about the conflict and it’s enduring literary legacy.

Inspired by his great grandfather’s experiences during World War One Marc Dugain wrote The Officer’s Ward in fifteen days. An instant critical and commercial success, it won several literary awards including the Prix des Deux Magots.

Wounded early on in the conflict, Dugain’s grandfather suffered extensive facial injuries and spent the remainder of the war convalescing in a hospital. He had to undergo nineteen surgical procedures in an attempt to repair his face. For the rest of his life he had trouble speaking, was only able to eat liquidised food and developed an ability to pull his tongue through the reconstructed nose.

Dugain’s moving account of a soldier spending several years in the Val-de-Grâce hospital rebuilding his life whilst beyond the institution’s walls millions were losing their lives in a bloody conflict waged across the continent is now studied in French schools.

A feature film adaptation was released in 2001. Nominated for nine César awards, it was submitted as the official entry at the Cannes Film Festival.

Dugain acknowledged that the First World War has greater resonance in contemporary French culture than the second due to the nation not yet having come to terms with atrocities committed and allegations that some citizens may have collaborated with invading Nazi forces.

Offering an alternative to conventional historical narratives, Dugain expressed his belief that events between 1914 and 1945 was a single war with a lengthy interlude. He suggested a complex series of events including the Treaty of Versailles made a resumption of hostilities inevitable.

Discussing the writing process Dugain stated that it’s his duty to create a fiction firmly grounded in reality.

A future project will be a script about the role played by Chinese Labour Corps in the conflict. With China not officially involved in hostilities until the decoration of war against Germany in 1917 battalions were restricted to non combatant duties. Under-represented in film and literature, the experiences of those who dug trenches and carried bodies is a story, he feels, has to be told.

Members of fellow panellist William Boyd’s family were also injured in the line of duty. His grandfather was wounded in the back at the Battle of Somme and kept the shrapnel as a souvenir. A great uncle was wounded at Paschendale.

One of Britain’s most successful novelists. Boyd’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages. In a career lasting more than three decades he has written the screenplay for Chaplin, authored a biography of fictitious artist Nat Tate and enlisted the aid of David Bowie in a playful hoax that fooled New York’s art critic community.

Boyd made his debut as director in 1999 with the feature film The Trench. Starring a pre-Bond Daniel Craig, the movie focused on a platoon in the hours leading up to the Battle of the Somme.

Currently living in France, Boyd spoke with passion about how the conflict has influenced his writing, differences between French and British commemorations, and the creation of historical myths.

Boyd suggested that in trying to understand events of one hundred years ago we may be distorting key political moments by trying to see them through a twenty-first century perspective. The creation of a historical narrative may have prioritised specific steps in the road to war and devalued instances which were regarded as significant at the time.

In common with many school children, Boyd was taught the War Poets at school. The horrors described in Sassoon’s verse were too much for a fellow pupil who fled from the classroom.

Boyd noted a tendency in war literature to make combat noble and heroic. He expressed a belief that writers and filmmakers have a duty to demythologise the conflict and show the true extent of horror experienced by those fighting in the front line.

When writing about the past he strives to strip away false glamour and heroism. His historical novels are written to challenge false assumptions about the eras and give the readers a greater understanding of the events without exaggeration or sensationalism.

An enlightening and engaging debate offering an insight into the workings of two highly successful novelists, how family experiences in the First World War continues to influence their work and the role they are playing in making sure the fallen will never be forgotten.

For information about future events being staged by Institut Français please contact:

Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515 – http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/

Blu-ray Review: I’m All Right Jack

19 Jan


The UK’s highest grossing film of 1959 arrives on Blu-ray.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s twin brothers John and Roy Boulting were one of the most consistently successful directing-producing partnerships in the British film industry.

The pair founded Charter Productions in 1937. After making several documentaries Roy directed and John produced the feature length thrillers The Landlady (1938), Consider your Verdict (1938), Inquest (1939) and Trunk Crime(1939).

During World War Two the brothers were given leave from service to make the anti-isolationist film Thunder Rock.

Politically active, John was an Ambulance driver for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Roy shared his brother’s left-leaning tendencies.

Their idealism and social engagement was threaded into a succession of celebrated films, most notably Brighton Rock, that reflected post-war pessimism.

Today the pair are best remembered for a series of satires that poured scorn on the British establishment. Private’s Progress, Lucky Jim, I’m All Right Jack, Carlton-Browne of the FO, and Heaven’s Above! provide a snapshot of 1950s culture and are filled with biting swipes at institutions.

Perhaps the Boulting Brother’s most significant post-war comedy, I’m All Right Jack takes aim at industrial relations, consumerism, and television.

Winner of BAFTA’s for Best British Screenplay and Best British Actor (Peter Sellers), the film struck a chord with a nation struggling to reconcile itself to new forms of manufacturing, emerging marketplaces, and union practices.

Adapted from a short story by Alan Hackney, I’m All Right Jack featured a stellar cast of comedic actors including Peter Sellers, Ian Carmichael, Terry Thomas, Margaret Rutherford Irene Handl, and John Le Mesurier.

Reportedly, the Queen arranged a private screening for Prime Minister Harold Wilson when he visited Balmoral seeking permission to dissolve parliament and call a general election.

Sequel to the 1956 satire A Private’s Progress. Ian Carmichael plays Stanley Windrush, an inept over educated and under-experienced university graduate unable to find lasting employment. After a succession of interviews at factories proof fruitless his uncle offers a job at a missile factory with the vague promise of career advancement.

An unwitting patsy, Windrush does not suspect he has been placed in the factory to upset relations between management and the unions. A small scale dispute carefully orchestrated by the company’s directors to pad their pockets with tax free cash when a contract is reassigned becomes a national strike. With the country falling to pieces the press are eager to tell Stanley’s story.

Strikes had been outlawed during World War Two and in the brave new world of an increasingly technologised workplace the unions were increasingly militant. Keen to flex their collective muscle and resist attempts at getting employees to increase their workload without extra payments the threat of strike action was ever present in the 1950s.

Central to the film’s success is Peter Sellers portrayal of the union leader Fred Kite. A cross between Hitler and Charlie Chaplin, the Stalinist becomes a tragic figure when his unwillingness to compromise causes his wife and daughter to leave the family home. Sellers’ comic timing is offset with an ability to convey pathos with slight gestures.

Making a very welcome debut on Blu-ray, this rip-roaring comedy has not lost its bite. A laugh out loud classic.

I’m All Right Jack can be ordered from Amazon:

Book Review: The Death Instinct by Jacques Mesrine. (Trans. Catherine Texier and Robert Greene)

13 Jan


Despite being a folk hero in his native country, the criminal exploits of Jacques Mesrine were largely unknown in the UK until the release of a two-part feature film directed by Jean-François Richet and starring Vincent Cassell.

Famed for a succession of bank robberies and audacious escapes from prison. To the public he was a Robin Hood figure striking a blow against a corrupt and unjust system. For the police, Mesrine was a gangster that had to be put back behind bars. By the 1970s he had become the most wanted criminal in France and Canada.

Media savvy, Mesrine recognised the importance of positive press coverage in an age before spin became a buzzword. A succession of Paris Match cover appearances and interviews perpetuated an airbrushed account of his methods and motives.

A memoir containing gruesome details of killings ensured Mesrine was in total control of his myth’s creation. Written while incarcerated in La Santé Prison. He surreptitiously found a publisher willing to print the book and managed to smuggle the manuscript out of the institution. The book was an instant best-seller.

Seeking to quash the cult of Mesrine and prevent further distribution of the text, profits were confiscated by the state.

With the book no longer viable from a commercial standpoint the authorities were convinced this literary endeavour would be swiftly forgotten. They hadn’t banked on a curious would-be readers keen to get their hands on a copy after hearing positive comments about book. To meet initial demand a small number of bootleg copies were clandestinely distributed.

Mesrine’s life was cut short in 1979 when a van drove up beside his car and four armed police officers opened fire on the vehicle. His family maintain the shots were fired without warning but a 2004 court hearing ruled that the officers had interpreted Mesrine’s movements as potentially reaching for a weapon and had acted in accordance with the law.

After Mesrine’s death interest from the public in the all aspects of his criminal career and political leanings was at fever pitch. Catering to the seemingly insatiable appetite for information about the fallen gangster’s life a publisher reissued Mesrine’s memoir.

The reprinting was met by a legal action brought upon the publisher by Mesrine’s family. Seeking to reclaim confiscated royalties, the estate successfully mounted a challenge that saw the entire print run seized and outstanding author’s payments repatriated.

In 1984 Situationist publisher éditions Champ libre re-issued the book. Owner, editor, and publisher Gérard Lebovici was murdered shortly after the book hit the shelves. His killer remains at large.

Long out of print and never before available in an English language edition. Tam Tam Press’ issuing of a newly translated edition reveals that Mesrine had potential to forge a career as a full time writer if he’d he not sought a life of criminality.

Equal parts autobiography and socio-political tract. The author sketches a narrative of key stages in his descent into a life filled with feuds, scams, and murder without remorse or excessive self analysis.

As a child Mesrine frequently absconded from school to watch Westerns and Film Noirs at a local cinema. The legacy of those afternoons spent watching those films seeps through every page. Structured like a thriller, the book presents instances of brutality with shockingly vivid detail.

More than a true crime book, The Death Instinct offers an insight into the mind of a psychopath. With every sentence Mesrine is attempting to manipulate the reader and control their views of his actions and get them to subscribe to his political agenda.

The most significant literary account of a criminal’s life to have been published since Edward Bunker’s Mr Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade.

The Death Instinct can be ordered from Amazon:

Iceland Noir 2014 – An Interview with Ragnar Bragason. Part Two

3 Dec


In 2006 Ragnar Bragason wrote and directed Children. A gritty portrayal of life in a Reykjavik suburb. The film won The Golden Swan at the Copenhagen International Film Festival, an Edda at The Icelandic Film and Television Academy’s annual awards ceremony. It was selected as his home nation’s submission to the Oscars.

While readying the sequel for theatrical release Ragnar started developing a series for television about three socially dysfunctional and emotionally crippled misfits that worked the dead hours of night in a downtown Reykjavik petrol station. Trapped by character flaws and a litany of mistakes and mishaps, they seemed fated to patrol the forecourt for the rest of their working lives.

The broadcast network and its audience were initially unprepared for a tragicomic series built on crushed dreams with a strand of humour that was at times absurd, frequently politically incorrect and shot through with pathos. Midway through the season Iceland fell in love with this hapless trio and the show became a monster hit.

Demand for further misadventures was so high two sequels and a spin off movie were produced.

The Night Shift would make broadcasting history by being the first Icelandic series to air on a UK network.


Stand up comedian Jón Gnarr, later to become Mayor of Reykjavik played hardline communist sympathiser Georg Bjarnfreðarson.

Overqualified and under-skilled. Possessing degrees in Psychology, Sociology, Pedagogy, Political Science, and Educational Studies, Georg never wastes an opportunity to let people know of his educational attainments. One of the small screens all time great comic characters. His catchphrase “personnel on the forecourt” was repeated by fans throughout Iceland.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Lenin, this complex figure is a cross between Captain Mainwaring, Basil Fawlty, David Brent and Joseph Stalin.

Long standing co-worker Olafur Ragnur, played by Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon, is frequently a lab rat for Georg’s hair-brained initiatives and suffers when things go spectacularly wrong. Dreaming of fame and fortune, he manages a band and is convinced the big time is just around the corner.

The death of a colleague creates a shift vacancy. Insecure and neurotic medical school dropout Daniel (Jörundur Ragnarsson) applies to head office for the post.

Working at the garage while he decides what to wants to do with the rest of his life, Daniel is fleeing from his parent’s tyranny but has unwittingly stepped into a workplace that occasionally resembles a Soviet era labour camp.


We asked Ragnor about how he sold the series to the network.

“It was pitched to the TV station as a comedy because that’s a word they understand. That’s a word that is safe for them,” he says.

“I had Jón and Pétur, two of the main comedy actors in Iceland. I had worked with both of them on other series. I knew those two guys had the ability to do drama. They had that kind of depth to do more than comedy and that intrigued me to do something that on the surface would be comic but if you look beyond that was basically a tragedy.”

“I wanted the series to reflect life and life is complex. There’s no good or bad or black and white, it’s all shades of grey.”

With two lead actors familiar to Icelandic audiences cast in lead roles how did Ragnar find the right person to play Daniel?

“I wanted to have an unknown actor in that part. I checked out all the actors coming out of drama school and the Academy of the Arts. He was the last one to come for audition. He was half an hour late. His car had broken down. He came in sweaty, mumbling excuses. Very nervous and neurotic. I didn’t have to do any casting because I decided on the spot that he was the perfect guy. Just by walking in the door I could see he had all the right elements so I told him he had the part.”

“The station had no idea how complex it would be, it was just a comedy with two popular actors. I don’t recall ever sending out a script. They changed programme directors at the TV station in the middle of writing. So basically we got a new programme head who took over and realized they had put some money into the scriptwriting of this series. It was kind of “should we green light the whole thing, put money in the production,” he explains.

The writing of The Night Shift was a collaborative effort between Ragnar, Jóhann Ævar Grímsson, Jón Gnarr, Jörundur Ragnarsson, and Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon.


The network was not prepared for The Night Shift’s appeal to a wide section of the TV audience.

“They thought it would be a cult thing, maybe a limited amount of young people smoking dope that would like it. The crossover thing took them completely by surprise. I actually think it saved the TV station. When The Night Shift was a huge hit subscription rate went up ten or twenty per cent.

“I think it’s really interesting to look at the whole thing, series and film, from the concept of friendship. Those completely different guys who normally would never associate with each other but they end up becoming friends. It’s a big struggle in the beginning. Friendship is often stronger than blood and they don’t have this connection with their families,” he says.

“They are traumatised in a way by life, from upbringing and their experiences. They bond and find a form of family. For me that’s really kind of precious. To take those three elements in the first episode of The Night Shift and end the way Bjarnfredrson (the spin off film) ends is a huge journey.”

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Shot in a documentary style, the series was filmed in a real petrol station. Fans regularly flock to the location and repeat catchphrases on the forecourt.

We quizzed Ragnar about how difficult it was to get the oil company on board.

“The oil company never asked for a script. Of course they asked for a pitch and which actors would be in it. They thought it would be good publicity, we don’t have to pay anything. In the end I think they should have paid us for shooting there because it picked up business for them.”

Initial response to The Night Shift was lukewarm but once the audience had got used to the strange goings on in the petrol station it became must see TV.

“The first episode, what you heard was very negative. Those people that watched the first show watched the second because their was something intriguing about it.”

“I recall it was the night of the fourth episode it kind of blew up. Everybody was talking about it. You heard people using Olafur’s phrases. It was the talk of the cafeterias of business, schools, and kindergartens. Kids were talking about it, everybody was talking about it. We didn’t expect that crossover thing where it would be across the board popular. There were no negative voices after that. Everybody latched onto it.”

In the next part of this interview Ragnar talks about the sequels and beating James Cameron at the box office.

The Night Shift can be ordered from Shop Icelandic:


Co-writer Jóhann Ævar Grímsson spoke to Iceland on Screen about the writing process for The Night Shift:




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