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I'm well overdue a catch-up post! You'll have to excuse me; obviously I've been up to very little as of late, but that does mean I've been watching plenty of Netflix and have some great recommendations for you...
The one thing I've done plenty of is walking. Back when we were allowed to travel, we headed over to near Matlock in Derbyshire for a weekend in a country Airbnb, which was really lovely. We relaxed, had a drink by the fireplace and went out on some lovely walks around the countryside. In-between Christmas and New Year, we had a proper snow day here in the West Midlands so I headed with my boyfriend to the Waseley Hills and it was such a stunning winter wonderland! The 2020 Christmas and New Year period for me felt a little strange; I'm from Manchester, my boyfriend is from Shropshire, we live in Birmingham and we both have friends in London, so around that time of year (which is usually the main chunk of time we have off that we're not spending going on holiday) it's a bit of a tour of the country to spend time with everyone. This year, there was obviously none of that. We got dressed up for New Year's Eve, but honestly; we just had some drinks and watched Netflix! My mum lives alone so I was able to join her for Christmas, though it was just the two of us; I had a really lovely time. We didn't do anything that special, it was actually a very quiet, relaxed few days, but I look on it fondly because - with everything going on - I really valued being able to spend that time with a member of my family and actually had such a chilled time without all the chaos and travel usually associated with the festive period. Don't get me wrong; I look forward to hopefully seeing everyone and having the usual Christmas fun next year, but a different sort of Christmas wasn't entirely unwelcome. Now we're back in a national lockdown, I'm just trying to take things day-by-day and hope that better times lie ahead. I'm on my own, it's cold, it's dark, I live in the city and it just feels really hard right now.
- LIFESTYLE FAVOURITES -
Motherland | I had honestly never heard of this TV show until my mum stuck the Christmas special on whilst I was home and within a few days I'd watched the entire two series of it that are out at the moment! It's a sitcom centered on middle-class London mummies, that's actually done in quite a smart, self-aware way. Admittedly, the characters never really venture beyond their archetypes, but it's just laugh-out-loud hilarious in such a real, relatable way.
The Undoing | I pretty much watched this entire mini-series in about 48 hours; it was that gripping! It's a murder-thriller 'whodunnit' starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant as a married couple in their 40s / 50s. When the mother of another child at their son's prep school is found brutally murdered, it isn't long before Hugh Grant's oncologist character is implicated. It's a fascinating character study that plays on how well you can ever really know another person. Hugh Grant is surprisingly great in this role and it cleverly plays on our perception of him and other characters he's played; a charming lovable rogue. Or is he a true sociopath whose mask has finally slipped? There are twists and turns at every step...
Bridgerton | I feel like post-Christmas a bit of Regency-era romance is what we all needed! Ridiculous-but-it works costumes, a nice dose of silliness, a beautiful cast and a real more-ish quality all made this such an enjoyable TV show to watch. It's a nice bit of frivolous escapism to get far to invested in. It's also so refreshing to see some sex scenes on TV from a female perspective!
The Last Kingdom | I enjoy a slice of cheesy semi-historical ridiculousness as much as the next person, and I truly thought this show was going to be a Spartacus-esque silly-but-enjoyable watch. However, it's actually one of the best TV shows I've watched in ages! I don't know how I'd never heard of it before. Yes, there's violence and sex but it's never farcical and never feels out-of-place or as though story is being sacrificed for a few more scenes of blood and boobs. It takes place during the Viking invasion of Britain and Ireland, which isn't a time period I personally have extensive knowledge of (which makes it all the more interesting as a setting), and stays fairly historically-accurate based on my subsequent Googling! It tells the story of Uthred; the heir to a Saxon kingdom who was taken as a child by a Viking king and raised as a son - meanwhile Uthred's slippery uncle declares himself ruler of the kingdom that should be his. Uthred soon finds himself in the service of Alfred the Great of Wessex, but there's a constant conflict between the Christianity of the Saxons and his 'heathen' ways, then between himself and the Danes due to his Saxon birth. It spans over decades (admittedly stretching the believability of keeping the same actors throughout) so that's all I'll say in terms of plot. But we watched the first three series in about five days, so that should give you an idea of how addictive and gripping this is! The story moves at breakneck speed, it constantly surprises you and there are some really interesting relationships and characters to get your teeth into.
It's a Sin | The latest creation by Russell T. Davies follows a group of young adults, moving to the big city for the first time, ready to live their best 'out and proud' lives, but it's the early 80s, so I think we all know what's coming... It sort of starts out as a comedy-drama but, given we the audience are looking back from 40 years later, there's an undeniable feeling of impending doom. First it's rumours, then it's friends of friends starting to get ill, then it's young people you know and love dying. And then people have had half of their community decimated to this. It's particularly interesting to watch how it unfolds because we're going through a pandemic right now. I think what really shone through in this series is how much you take for granted; I was born in 1993 and there were still laws that discriminated against gay people in the UK until 1997 (which makes it even more groundbreaking that Davies' legendary Queer as Folk aired in 1999). The way people with HIV/AIDS were treated back then is enough to make you sick. It makes you appreciate how far society and medicine have come in the past 40 years; what was once a little-understood virus that meant a death sentence now has treatments that allow those who are HIV positive to live normal, long lives, though (as with any fight for societal change) there's still a long way to go in terms of attitudes across the world and accessibility to these drugs. The only negative I can really think of is that the character of Jill very much plays a supporting role; she doesn't really have a lot of story herself. I feel like a romantic hetero subplot for her wouldn't really work but I'd have liked to have seen a bit more of her ambitions and life goals. Regardless, you will love these characters, you will want to be their best friend and you'll sob your heart out as the story progresses at the wasted lives and the future hopes and dreams that never got to be realised (one thing I'd say is that if you're really struggling with your mental health this lockdown; maybe save this one for in a few months because it does really affect you for a while after the credits roll). However, there are truly uplifting and empowering moments too, and of course it comes with a fabulous 80s soundtrack! All in all; I genuinely think this could go down as one of the best one-off series of all time that seems a fitting tribute to those that died of AIDS during the 80s and early 90s and I DEMAND that everyone involved is immediately cast in more things.
Small Axe | I've wedged this in in-between my TV and film picks because I'm not really sure where it falls! It's a series of films by Steve McQueen (an artist and the director of films like 12 Years a Slave, Shame and Hunger) available on BBC iPlayer. I've actually not finished them all just yet because they're feature-length, but they each focus on a different story from London's Afro-Caribbean community in the 60s, 70s and 80s. A lot of the stories are based on true events so it feels like an important slice of my own history, which isn't often committed to film. Whilst there's a feel-good party-all-night love story in the mix, much of it is painful to witness but powerfully told. There are some amazing performances and the cast list really does read like a who's who of young British talent. It's not always easy, but it's important to bear witness to the power of these stories and these people.
Tenet | We finally watched Tenet, after trying and failing several times to see it at the cinema! I feel like a lot of cinema-goers didn't like this film. Bear in mind that (outside of his poor writing of female characters); broadly, I'm a big fan of Nolan's films and many are in my top 10... but I enjoyed it! Ok, it wasn't an Inception or an Interstellar, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable action / spy film with an interesting twist. The central concept is a bit difficult to get your head around but I'd advise not trying to totally understand what it means in every single context and just follow it with the story and understand it through the plot. It does effectively exist in a deterministic universe, but that's ok with me if we get a good story. I thought this was a good film and it's worth a watch if you enjoy a smarter kind of action film.
Soul | As a philosophy and theology graduate; the latest Pixar film had instant appeal with me! A jazz musician voiced by Jamie Foxx takes a tumble and finds himself in what appears to be the afterlife. However, he has the gig of a lifetime coming up and doesn't want to miss his big break, so he travels through some sort of Platonic world of forms where souls exist and become whole before being allocated to a human on earth to find a way back. However, it doesn't really go and planned and it transpires that he has a lot to learn about what it really means to live life. I think this really captures that inventive, creative, intelligent magic that made Inside Out such a next-level 'kids' film. It's powerful and has some really ambitious, thought-provoking material in there.
Queen and Slim | I feel like this is another film I'd wanted to go and see but then lockdown happened. I'm not really sure how to explain the premise without giving a bit of a spoiler. This all happens within the first 10 minutes of the two and a half hour long film, but if you want to remain pure **INCOMING SPOILERS!** Two black 20-somethings (Queen and Slim) have an unremarkable Tinder date and Slim drives Queen home. En route, whilst they goof around a little, he accidentally swerves in the empty road, and a police officer pulls them over. A 'misunderstanding' occurs and the trigger-happy officer shoots Queen in the leg. Things escalate, the officer is left for dead and the relative strangers have no choice but to run. The bodycam footage goes viral and a bounty is placed on them and, despite many sympathising with them (elevating them to folk hero status), they're in too deep and there's no way back. This was ultimately a painful watch; it makes you angry and upset at the injustice of everything. It's not a new story but it does have an added poignancy having come out this year; unfortunately wrongful police shootings of black people have been happening and caused widespread protests since before I was born; I just hope that by the time I die people will actually realise that black lives do matter. It's a revenge story meets Bonnie and Clyde meets love story. It's gripping, tense and left me genuinely uncomfortable at times. The central performances by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are shatteringly good. It did have some pacing issues in the middle, but it was overall impactful enough for me to be fine with that.
Reiki Healing Hope | I've mentioned many times on this blog that I love listening to ASMR before bed; it really helps me relax and leave whatever the day has thrown at me in the past, and to anchor myself in the present. At the moment I really enjoy the channel Reiki Healing Hope, because Jessica fuses relaxing whispers with affirmations and mindfulness to really put my entire soul at ease!
Mad About Skin | You know when you discover a new YouTube channel and suddenly you're, like 20 videos deep and there's nothing else in your Recommended feed and you're lurking in every new upload? This is what I've been like with this channel! It's almost like I'll be thinking about something and then a little video on that exact topic will pop up from Rob and I'm like 'thank you very much!' He works so hard and produces so much content that I really take my hat off to him. I enjoy this channel so much because it covers a wide range of skincare topics, not just products but general tips, hints and opinions, plus the products he does recommend are all really affordable. Also, Rob seems totally lovely, which always makes me support a creator and wish them endless success! If you want videos on topics like getting the most from your retinol, holy grails and total fails from a skincare brand, the best drugstore serums and more then check out his channel.
How have you been? How was your Christmas and do you have any TV recommendations for me?