Critics' Choice

By Jonathan Ross Johnny Marr Ellen E Jones
Author: Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a comedian, talk show host, film critic and one of Britain's most successful broadcasters.

Author: Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones is The Independent's TV critic and a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and The i Paper. She runs regular review writing workshops and mentoring programmes for young journalists, yet still finds time to squeeze in a solid four hours of TV-viewing a day.

Author: Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr is a celebrated English musician, singer-songwriter and guitarist

Jonathan Ross says…

This month’s The Shape of Water is the latest masterpiece from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro and, even if monster movies aren’t usually your cup of chai, I urge you to give it a look. With a breathtaking lead performance from Sally Hawkins and stunning cinematography, it also has a terrific supporting cast and an extraordinary mythical sea creature brought to life by long-time Guillermo collaborator Doug Jones.
I actually think this might be Del Toro’s finest work to date, and the number of awards it’s picked up would second that. In short, Del Toro has created a unique experience, even factoring in his other great movies, which is a remarkable feat.

His love for imaginary monsters is legendary and here the sea creature bears more
than just a passing resemblance to the one from the Black Lagoon, which first wowed audiences back in the 1950s. The unlikely love story manages to encompass sex, race, power and intolerance with a gorgeous song and dance number thrown in for
good measure.

I’ve been a fan of Del Toro for years – we became friends bonding over our love of comic books and trashy pulp cinema. He came for dinner one night and we watched the last of Stallone’s Rambo films. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) was with us and even his more sophisticated palate eventually succumbed to the sheer joyous nonsense of watching Sly demolish an entire army of fascists single handed. But Del Toro really loved it – standing up and cheering Rambo on as he wreaked righteous vengeance on the
bad guys.

It’s Del Toro’s passion for cinema in all its forms that makes me enjoy his films so much. He knows that fantasy and horror work best when we care about the characters involved. A friend of mine said he can’t enjoy a film unless the film-maker displays empathy for the human condition – so, I imagine he doesn’t share my love for Sly Stallone. But those qualities are always present in Del Toro’s work. His stories are wrapped in myth and fairy tale and contain an intelligence rarely found in more mainstream fare. We’re lucky to have him.

Johnny Marr on Manchester…

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been very aware of my environment. In around
1985, the Smiths had been living in London for a year and I made the decision for us all to move back to Manchester – even though we were on a roll of having hits at the time – purely for creative reasons. I just felt Manchester was the best place for us to make the music we needed to make at that time.

There are so many reasons Manchester is such a creative hotbed, but you can’t ignore the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the fact it is a melting pot of different cultures: Eastern European, Irish and Jewish, which all feeds into not just arts and entertainment, but also the science and education communities. Oh, and you can’t escape the rain!

In the 1960s, Manchester had more nightclubs per capita than any other city in Europe, which continued into the decades that followed with a great tradition of little clubs and discos. When the Smiths started out, there were so many places where bands had
been playing since the 1960s and 1970s, with names like Pips, Placemate 7 and Hero’s. There was also a really strong gay club culture.

I was determined to have a life in music, and even though I was only 16, I got around to a lot of concerts, record shops, bars and Student Unions because it was where the musicians were. I knew where the Buzzcocks’ management were; I had Joy Division rehearsing in the studio above me… I was aware of the generation in Manchester before me.

There’s always a desire to encourage the next generation and pass the baton on. Whether it’s the Smiths playing early gigs with the Fall and James, or us playing with New Order, or in the late 1980s, based on the Hacienda, when Manchester again became the centre of the world and you saw bands like 808 State playing with the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, which in turn was the impetus for Oasis, right up to the present day. There’s a huge family tree.

Manchester is a city that reinvents itself from its own heritage.

Ellen E Jones says…

For TV viewers the world over, one dark date looms largest. That’s the day – now confirmed for 2019 – when Game of Thrones will air its last ever episode. It hangs over us like a White Walker’s icy axe, but it also makes the search for a successor all the more interesting. So could Britannia be it?

This new Sky Atlantic show is the TV debut of acclaimed British playwright Jez Butterworth and it’s also set in an ancient world of warring cultures and mystical beliefs. It opens in AD43, the year that the Roman conquest of Britain began, and its sprawling cast includes real historical figures, such as Roman general Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey.

Where Game of Thrones has dragons, Britannia has druids, the most powerful of whom, the wizard-like Veran, is played by Mackenzie Crook. There are also plenty of Daenerys Targaryen-equivalent warrior women, and this, too, is apparently true to the period. Historians believe that Celtic women such as Queen Antedia (Zoë Wanamaker) and her rival, Kerra (Kelly Reilly), would have led tribes and owned land.

Yet, despite such similarities, it’s obvious from the opening bars of theme tune, Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, that Butterworth has other ambitions for his show. The 1968 psychedelic classic, with its esoteric allusions, sets a very different tone to GoT’s thrusting martial theme. In fact, Butterworth claims never to have watched a single episode of the TV titan. “I’d probably get into it if I did watch it,” he told The Guardian. “But I wouldn’t want to write it.”

What would he want to write? While HBO borrowed from English history and geography to ground the fantasy of Westeros, Britannia grasps at an Englishness more ineffable and strange. It’s the spirit of the place that Butterworth is mulling over, just as he did in his hit West End play Jerusalem.

Clearly a show that celebrates eccentricity and rebellion, from Boudicca’s uprising through to Donovan’s swinging ’60s would never be content to imitate what came before? In fact, it seems there’s only one aspect of GoT that Britannia hopes to replicate and that’s its phenomenal success.