Tag Archives: Derek Jacobi

Vicious fun with McKellen and Jacobi on PBS

Ian McKellen and Derek Jaobi

Sirs Ian McKerlen and Derek Jacobi star as devoted but bickering partners of nearly 50 years in the new Britcom ‘Vicious,’ premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates.


Two knights of the British theater, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, cut loose as a bickering elderly gay couple in Vicious, a new half-hour Britcom premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates (check local listings).
Created by an American, former Will & Grace executive producer Greg Janetti, the farcical comedy (which originally had the working title Vicious Old Queens) follows fading actor Freddie Thornhill (McKellen) and his partner of 48 years, Stuart Bixby (Jacobi), who share an overstuffed, overdecorated two-level London flat with their 20-year-old dog, Balthazar. The series opens on the day of a funeral for Clive St. Clair, who worshipfully adored Freddie from afar and carried a lifelong torch for him – at least, according to Freddie. Joining Freddie and Stuart for the wake is their best friend of several decades, Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour, The History Boys), but all three of them immediately become distracted by the arrival of a new neighbor in the apartment building: Ash Weston (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), a very handsome working-class lad of indeterminate amorous inclinations.
When Stuart ponders whether Ash is gay or straight, Freddie immediately promises to solve the mystery.
“After all, I did spend a year playing the detective in The Mousetrap,” he tells Stuart, referencing the venerable Agatha Christie play that has been running continuously in London since 1952.
“Oh, please,” Stuart snaps back. “Our POSTMAN has been in The Mousetrap.
Although it is set in the present, in general tone and broad performance style Vicious is a throwback to such vintage Britcoms of the ‘70s as Are You Being Served? In fact, one episode features Stuart earning some extra cash by working in the men’s section of a department store, and I half expected Mr. Humphries to pop into the scene with his characteristic “I’m free!”
Yet while Mr. Humphries’ off-camera personal life was a matter of sniggering speculation in that bygone sitcom, the loving yet fractious relationship between Stuart and Freddie is very much at the heart of Vicious. These two cranky old gents may get on each other’s nerves, but they also share a long history that stretches back to a time when things were not at all easy for men like themselves.
“The point of those old-fashioned sitcoms was that to be gay was, in itself, funny and that you laughed at the characters rather than with them,” says McKellen, who, like Jacobi, is gay in real life as well. “This is not true of (Vicious), and I don’t think Derek and I would have wanted to be involved in this script if it were old-fashioned in that sense. We don’t get laughs as Freddie and Stuart because we are gay, but because we are the people we are. … It’s just two real men surviving with all the problems that many, many people have.”
Filmed before a live studio audience, Vicious just wants to make you laugh, and it’s a treat to watch these two stage titans setting aside any traces of dignity to achieve that end. McKellen in particular is absolutely hilarious. Watch for an episode in which Freddie auditions to play a character who has a single line on Downton Abbey. He has just barely received the thrilling news that he got the job when Ash turns up at the door to announce that, despite his complete lack of experience, he has just been hired for a part in an independent film.
Watching McKellen react to that news is a master class in comedy acting, as Freddie, completely numb, at first thinks he must have misheard, then struggles in vain to process this impossible development and finally chokes back the bitter jealousy he is feeling. The actor does all of this wordlessly, too. It’s an absolutely brilliant moment.
Vicious was an runaway smash when it ran in the UK, where it already has been picked up for a second season. Meanwhile, don’t miss this chance for the next few weeks to watch McKellen and Jacobi as you’ve never seen them before.
'Vicious' on PBS

Frances de la Tour and Iwan Rheon (back row) co-star in ‘Vicious’ with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on PBS

PBS delivers a valentine from London’s National Theatre

Judi Dench performs 'Send in the Clowns.'

Judi Dench performs ‘Send in the Clowns’ from ‘A Little Night Music’ during ‘ National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage,’ tonight on ‘Great Performances.’


If you’re eager to take a break from the Winter Olympic Games, or if you’re just ready for two beguiling hours of television on general principal, Great Performances tonight presents the national television premiere of National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage on many PBS affiliates (as always, check your local TV listings to confirm when it’s airing in your area).
This glittering two-hour special, which was screened as a live satellite transmission to a limited number of U.S. movie theaters last November, spotlights a jaw-dropping array of British actors as they assemble to pay tribute to the first half-century of productions at a venue that is their part-time home: The National Theatre, which opened its doors at the Old Vic in 1983 under the artistic leadership of Sir Laurence Olivier before eventually transferring to its current location on London’s South Bank. The NT, which houses the Olivier, Lyttleton and Cottlesloe Theatres, annual generates an acclaimed combination of both classics and new works each night.
The evening’s program combines archival snippets of great past productions with a number of actors appearing live on stage to perform a speech from a play with which they’re associated. In the most moving example, we see an old clip of Maggie Smith at her most hilariously mannered in a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever from her salad days, juxtaposed with the veteran actress of today as she recites a worldly-wise monologue from The Beaux’ Strategem, a Restoration comedy.
Another huge audience favorite, Judi Dench, appears to recreate two roles that won her the Olivier Award (London’s equivalent of the Tony Award) as best actress: as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and as aging actress Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
Among Britain’s younger contingent of stars, Benedict Cumberbatch appears in a scene from his past triumph in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, while Cumberbatch’s Sherlock nemesis, Andrew Scott, and Dominic Cooper perform a scene from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
The cast of 100 performers also includes such familiar faces as Christopher Eccleston, Joan Plowright, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Penelope Keith, Helen Mirren and Derek Jacobi.
As the program unfolds, the producers’ desire to pack as much as possible into two hours inevitably starts to feel like the video equivalent of picking one’s way through the greatest Whitman’s chocolate sampler of all time, as one great moment in English drama after another follows all too fleetingly on the other. Also, I do regret that not all plays or even featured performers are identified (for the record, that’s a singer named Clive Rowe bringing down the house in “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls).
Still, even if you can’t put a name to an occasional face or performance, there’s no missing that, in terms of quality per minute, National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage is an embarrassment of riches.
Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Rosenkrantz in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’

A tender ‘Tango’ in the twilight

Celia and alan
Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi
Two former childhood sweethearts, now in their 70s, find love again after they reconnect via e-mail in Last Tango in Halifax, a charming, funny and bittersweet six-part romantic drama premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates (check your local listings).
Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi) and Celia Dawson (Anne Reid) were classmates in their teens, but they haven’t seen each other since 1953, when Celia broke Alan’s heart by standing him up for their first date. He knew that her family was moving away for business reasons, but when Celia left town without so much as an apology or even an explanation for missing their date, a crushed Alan surmised she had been completely indifferent to him. He eventually married another local girl and settled down to raise their daughter, Gillian. Now, many years later, he lives on a Yorkshire sheep farm with the middle-aged Gillian (Nicola Walker), a widow herself, and her teenage son, Raff (Josh Bolt).
Over the years, though, Alan never stopped thinking about Celia and wondering what might have been, and he finally screws up the courage to invite her to meet him for coffee. That meeting proves revelatory for both of them, as they discover the mutual truth about what has kept them apart all these years, as well as the fact that Alan’s feelings were not one-sided.
Their rekindled romance plays out against the backdrop of much drama in the lives of their children and grandchildren. In addition to her hard work on the sheep farm, Gillian also works in a local grocery store and has drifted into an affair with a very unsuitable younger man (Sacha Dhawan). Meanwhile, Robbie (Dean Anderson), her former brother-in-law who irrationally blames Gillian for her husband’s accidental death, is conducting a tug-of-war for Raff’s loyalties, trying to turn the boy against his mother.
On Celia’s side of the equation, her daughter, Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), reluctantly has decided to allow her errant husband, John (Tony Gardner), to return home after an extended affair with an alcoholic younger woman, forcing her end a tentative same-sex fling with a teacher (Nina Sosanya) at the school where Caroline is an administrator. Alas, news of that lesbian fling appears to be on the verge of blowing up, so the always testy Caroline is in an even fouler mood than usual.
Series creator Sally Wainwright (Scott and Bailey) reportedly got the idea for Last Tango in Halifax from the second marriage of her own mother. I doubt that some of the soapier elements in this story are actually drawn from real life, but Wainwright does an impressive job of shifting moods and tones from scene to scene while also drawing some deft sketches of characters that cross three generations.
Foremost, however, Last Tango in Halifax is Alan and Celia’s story, and Jacobi and Reid are magical. The former, of course, has been a PBS superstar in high-profile projects stretching back to the mid-‘70s miniseries I, Claudius; Reid is somewhat less well known on this side of the pond, but you may recognize her from her memorable work as the cook Mrs. Thackeray in the recent Masterpiece Classic reboot of Upstairs Downstairs. They never make a false step in their Tango, so it’s no surprise to hear that a second season of the show already is in production in the UK. Meanwhile, full episodes of Season One will be available for a limited time at the PBS Video Portal (www.pbs.com) after each week’s broadcast.
gillian raff caroline
Nicola Walker, Josh Bolt and Sarah Lancashire