Moonfleet part 1 review

Review Rob Smedley
28 Dec 2013 - 22:11

Moonfleet, Sky One's adventure two-parter starring Ray Winstone, gets off to a rip-roaring start...

This review contains spoilers.

There's something about that tinselly interstice between Christmas and New Year when - your senses broken down by joyless fistfuls of Quality Street - you're willing to submit to the Television and hope that there's something good on for the family. Fortunately Sky One's adaptation of J. Meade Falkner's 1898 novel, Moonfleet (a Pointless answer in the making...) is an offering that might help fill the chocolatey void with its rattling adventure.

The year: 1757. The place: the coastal village of Moonfleet. The brandy: currently being smuggled ashore under the watchful gaze of Ray Winstone's Elzevir Block (surely the name of a coldsore cream?). Block who, presumably by virtue of having the biggest coat in the village, is in charge of smuggling tobacco, rum, and spices under the moonlight. He's a sort of south coast Phil Mitchell - he too owns a pub and hates narks - so naturally Winstone is in his element here, in much the same way he was as Magwitch in BBC One's Great Expectations last Christmas. Grizzled, gruff, and salty, Winstone's like a polar bear emerging from the ocean. A big, Cockney, polar bear.

But hark! The King's men approach, led by the dastardly Magistrate Mohune (Ben Chaplin). Chaplin, who was tremendous in the one-off WW1 drama The Wipers Times a few months ago, returns to our screens with a performance that's written far less subtly than his talents deserve, but which he inhabits with the oily assuredness that only Brits playing utter bastards can provide. And gosh, we are good at it as a nation, aren't we? If Mohune were any more pantomime evil then he'd have to learn to cackle and grow a pencil-thin moutache to twiddle. Throw your confectionary at him and boo whenever he appears on screen.

Mohune shoots Block's son Davey dead, instantly topping up his 'Villainousness' HP bar. Where's a reluctant hero when you need one? Ah, here he comes! Spellcheck gremlin Aneurin Barnard is John Trenchard, a strapping young orphan living with his aunt. When he's not dreaming about Blackbeard's ghost he's yearning for the smuggler's life, despite seeing his chum Dave being shot. YOLO and all that (Ye Only Liveth Once).

Mind, you do get the feeling Barnard's a bit old to be an orphan, and too handsome to play the wide-eyed young outcast. He looks like he should be modelling doublets and breeches in an eighteenth century mail order catalogue: 'Londinium's Fancy' or 'Gadabout & Dandy, Menswear'. He even swims through the ocean in the nuddy with all the nonchalance of a model in a Davidoff ad, emerging to flash his tackle and bait at Mohune's daughter Grace.

Being a young lady in possession of a pulse, Grace falls for John; a bodice-ripping romance beckons, moonlit skinny-dipping ensues. Yes, it really puts the 'moon' in Moonfleet, this adaptation. Sexual tension and heavy breathing aside they're a dull couple, enlived only by the sexual thrill of  their forbidden 'Dear Jackie magazine...' romance. 

While they find love on the beach, Grace's father is busy being the Darth Vader of Dorset: choking the life out of smugglers, threatening villagers, and stealing Elzevir Block's pub out from under him in an auction that rapidly turns into an eighteenth century dick-swinging contest over 'oos got the mahhst maaannneyyy!'. Nothing like an auction to create a bit of excitement just as the dramatic momentum begins to flag. Just ask Lovejoy.

Plagued by Mohune's tyrannical grip, Elzevir and John strike lucky when they catch him spying on their smuggling shenanigans ('smugganigans'), giving Elzevir the chance to take vengeance for his son and give Winstone something other to do than grumble like a seaworthy Lord Sugar. Elzevir decides that Mohune won't be fired (upon), only for Mohune to be shot by one of his own comically inept henchmen. Bang. All of Winstone's volcanic rumbling moralising, gone to waste.

Under a light drizzle of musket fire, Elzevir and John 'Butch & Sundance' it over the cliff and land slap back in a 'to be continued...'. Not so much a cliffhanger as a cliff jumper, but a fine enough end to an adaptation that moves at enough of a rip-roaring pace to be a distraction. If you've left any swashes out, chances are they're halfway to being buckled by now. So tune in tomorrow, that is, if you're not in a sugar coma.

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