Who knew? The former Guinevere sings like an angel

This Saturday (Oct. 19) is clearly Starz day on cable. At 9 p.m., the splendid "White Queen" mini-series concludes with kingdoms at stake. And at 10:05, "Dancing at the Edge" -- quieter, subtler, yet equally well-crafted -- begins. One of its strengths is Angel Coulby's superb singing; here's the story I sent to papers:


Most actors collide with fussy casting restrictions. They’re
limited to one gender, one genre, one race.

Not Angel Coulby. Her first drama-school role was as Will
Scarlet, one of Robin Hood’s merry men. Her TV breakthrough was in “Merlin” --
a biracial actress playing Guinevere. “I was impressed by the very color-blind
approach,” she said.

And now she has TV’s best singing role – in cable’s “Dancing
on the Edge” mini-series -- even though many people didn’t know she can sing.

“My family knew,” said Coulby, 33. “But it was not something
I’d been talking about.”

Now the world hears her sing beautifully. “Edge” follows a
fictional big band in 1930s. Its Duke Ellington-type leader (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
makes an impression with royalty; so does its lead singer (Coulby), doing new
songs written in the style of that era. “I’d never realized how well it fits my

The era offered both elegance and despair, she said. “There
were a lot of race issues and class issues.”

On the one side, upper-crust London seemed fascinated by dating
black stars; “there was this crude idea of being with someone exotic.” On the
other, blacks often received second-class treatment.

Coulby’s own racial scene was a blend. Her parents – black father,
white mother – divorced early, but her London neighborhood was a rich mix. “My
school was hugely multi-cultural.”

She was 5 when her mother suggested she might be an actress
some day. She sang a lot in grade school and high school, a little in drama
school, but never really mentioned it afterward. She did a lot of British TV
dramas; then came “Merlin,” which reached the U.S. via NBC and then Syfy.

Over five seasons, Coulby transformed from Gwen the
housemaid to Guinevere, capturing the frustrations of women. “When I became
queen and people listened to me, it was much better.”

Then she leaped centuries – first to the ‘30s and then to
current times, playing a cop’s wife in the British version of the series known
as “The Bridge” in the U.S. “I was kind of happy putting on jeans and T-shirts,
after five years in corsets.”

“Dancing on the Edge.” Starz

Opener, 10:05 to 11:45 p.m. Saturday; reruns at
5:40 p.m. Monday and 11:05 p.m. Wednesday

Then four hour-long episodes, at 9 p.m.

Surviving the spotlight at 15; Megan and Mary have been there

When "Anne of Green Gables" arrived, teen-aged Megan Follows was startlingly good. More startling was the way she often avoided big-time films and TV afterward, instead doing Shakespeare and Ibsen and such.

Now -- 30 years after being cast as Anne -- she's back on TV in "Reign," which starts Thursday (Oct. 17). I have mixed feelings about the show, but not about Follows. Here's the story I sent to papers:


It’s not easy, perhaps, to have the world watching you when
you’re 15.

Mary Stuart learned that 455 years ago. Already Scotland’s
queen, she arrived in the French court, preparing to marry that country’s
future king.

And Megan Follows learned that 30 years ago, when she was
cast in “Anne of Green Gables.” That was followed by fame, praise … and
detours. “I didn’t really, perhaps, go in a straight line,” she said.

Follows did some movie and TV, but spent more time in theater.
 She did Shakespeare and Ibsen and
Stoppard, Sam Shepard and Marsha Norman and more; she was far from the big-movie
world. “You take away the pyrotechnics or car chases,” she said, “and (have)
the intricacies and inter-actions of people.”

And now she’s in “Reign,” a lushly filmed TV series --
playing Mary Stuart’s future mother-in-law.  

This is one of the great characters from history, said writer-producer
Laurie McCarthy. “Catherine de’ Medici … continued to have great influence over
much of Europe.”

And she did it mainly by manipulating French kings – first her
husband and then her sons. “I love that she has that power,” Follows said. “But
she has to (get it) through other people’s power.”

Strong and smart, she’s the sort of character Follows has
loved to play – ever since that “Anne” role. “It certainly gave me a huge
appetite for strong female characters who are driving a story,” she said.

Growing up in a busy theater family, Follows starred in a
Canadian TV series (“Matt and Jenny”) at 11, then moved to Los Angeles to live
with her older sister, also an actress.

Follows played Martin Mull’s daughter in one situation comedy
and Nancy McKeon’s cousin in a “Facts of Life” episode that was a pilot fora possible
spin-off series. But the break came from her homeland.

“Anne” is a beloved book about a head-strong orphan, raised
by a quiet Canadian farm family. Follows starred in the mini-series and its two
sequels. “I was incredibly lucky,” she said.

She did some more mainstream TV, perhaps keeping her theater
ethic. “My parents taught me you had to do the work, do the job.”

The big step was a 1992 “Romeo and Juliet” at the prestigious
Stratford Festival. In “Fifty Seasons at Stratford” (Madison Press Books,
2002), Antoni Cimolino described learning Follows would star with him. “I had
seen her once onstage and thought she was unbearably cute …. She was terrific
as Juliet.”

Critics agreed. In the next two decades, Follows spent a lot
of time onstage and in Canadian films. Now she’s in a big U.S. series -- filmed
in Canada and Ireland – that has strong female forces colliding.

One is Mary Stuart. “She was very witty, charming, very, very
intelligent,” said Adelaide Kane, who plays her. “She spoke six languages. She
played two instruments. She wrote, she hunted, she hawked, she danced, she
played golf …. She was married three times and widowed twice by the time she
was 26.”

The other is Catherine, with brutal influence. “It’s a dark
world,” Follows said, “and heads do roll.”

“Reign,” 9 p.m. Thursdays, CW, debuting Oct. 17

Adelaide Kane is Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland,
soon to marry the prince of France; Megan Follows is Catherine de’ Medici,
queen consort of France

"56 Up" sees class barriers fade ... even in England

From the beginning, the "Up" films have been fascinating looks at changing lives. Every seven years, they've returned to the same people.

Now "56 Up" reaches PBS on Monday. Here's the story I sent to papers:


A half-century ago, a documentary called “Seven Up” could easily
have escaped attention.

It was black-and-white and British. It showed 7-year-olds –
half from upper-crust families – at play and in conversation. It tried to be a
“deep study of the English class system,” filmmaker Michael Apted said.

Then it became much more.

Apted, a researcher for that film, directed new ones every
seven years, tracing those people. “I began to lose my obsession with the class
thing and concentrate much more on the growth of the personality.”

For some, that growth is enormous. “You can aspire to be and
do whatever you feel,” Tony Walker said.

In attitude, perhaps, Walker didn’t change much from “Seven
Up” to “56 Up,” which reaches PBS on Monday, via the “POV” series. “You can see
the exuberance that’s part of me at 7 and (now I’m) no different,” he said.

That’s true of most people, Apted said. “The personality is
pretty much embedded at 7.”

What they do with that personality is the key. Some people
stuck to the class stereotypes; some didn’t.

Upper-crust, Oxford guys? One, Bruce Balden, taught in
Bangladesh and then for decades in one of London’s tough, East End
neighborhoods. Another, John Brisby, focuses on charities in Bulgaria.

Lower-income kids? With no advanced education, Sue Davis
became a top administrator at a law school. Walker and his wife prospered as
cab drivers; they bought a second home, in Spain, and almost started a sports
bar nearby.

That’s a leap from a childhood in, he said, a “very
low-income family …. My dad was in and out of jail.”

Walker said he emerged via hard work, a “streetwise education”
and that attitude. “I’m a typical, London happy-go-lucky cabbie,” he said.

He enjoys a friendship with Apted, who became a Hollywood
director, from “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Gorillas in the Mist” to a James
Bond film and the second “Narnia” film. And he savors cabbie life.

His passengers have included Johnny Depp, Robert Downey,
David Hasselhoff and Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. (One person, it
seems, wanted Walker’s autograph, not Aldrin’s.) And Brisby.

By coincidence, Walker said, he was next in line when his “56
Up” colleague was waiting for a cab. After paying the fare, Brisby invited him
into his elegant home.

“He’s up at this (high) end … and I’m at the other end, as a
snotty-nosed kid. And we were having tea together. It was a fantastic story.”
And it was a long leap from the rigid class structure of “Seven Up.”

“56 Up,” 10 p.m. Monday, most PBS stations
(check local listings)

Under the “POV” series title

Shakespeare and jogging: A perilous combination

Epic in scope, steep in ambition, PBS' four-week Shakespeare project has been impressive -- and varied. "Richard II" was terrific; the two "Henry IV" films nearly drowned in Falstaff overload.  Now comes the excellent "Henry V" finale (Friday, Oct. 11). Here's the updated version of the story I sent to papers:


Jogging, we all realize, can be perilous. It could lead to
being slapped hard by an Oscar-winning actor.

At least, that’s what happened to Tom Hiddleston, who’s now
concluding a PBS epic.

To many Americans, Hiddleston is known for his work with Kenneth
Branagh. He was odd Loki in “Thor” (directed by Branagh) and in “The Avengers”;
he was Branagh’s sidekick in the “Wallander” mysteries.

Even when playing these comic-book characters or crime-solvers,
he said, he thinks in classical terms. “When I was building Loki as a character
with Kenneth Branagh, … our references were Shakespearean.”

Now he’s concluding a Bard sweep. Under the “Hollow Crown”
title, PBS filmed four inter-locking Shakespeare plays in the style of epic movies.
In Friday’s finale, Hiddleston is sturdy King Henry V; in the two films before
that, he was bawdy Prince Hal, disappointing his dad Henry IV (Jeremy Irons).

That led to his jogging scheme. “It’s my own insanity,
really,” Hiddleston said. “When I’m working, I like to get up very early and I
go for a run (so) I can think very clearly and very cleanly about the oncoming
work of the day.”

This happened to be a frigid January day, stirring his mind.
By 7 a.m., he said, he was telling director Richard Eyre, “I have this idea.
Jeremy Irons has to hit me as hard as he possibly can, across the face.”

So Henry IV slapped the prodigal prince. “It really hurt,”
Hiddleston recalled. “He was wearing two very regal rings.”

The four “Hollow Crown” films span 45 years of British
history. “This is a sort of mini-series,” said producer Gareth Neame, “because
all four of these plays are completely interconnected.”

And three of them show Hal in transition. “He starts out
rebellious, drunk, mischievous, wayward and youthful,” Hiddleston said. “And
then he becomes the greatest warrior king that England ever had.”

That’s in Friday’s “Henry V” …. Which previously brought
fame to Branagh as a director and star. “He was so thrilled for me,” Hiddleston
said. “He said, ‘You’re going to have the time of your life.’”

And yes, Hiddleston said, he did have a good time. That was
despite biting cold. And despite filming in reverse order chronologically,
requiring Hal to age backwards. (“I used a lot of Gillette products.”) And
despite being belted by two regal rings on a master’s hand.

“Henry V,” 9 p.m. Friday, PBS (check local

Concludes a four-week “Great Performances”
package called “The Hollow Crown”

“Crown” began with “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Part
1” and “Henry IV, Part 2”; see

Emmy telecast: More music, more dance, more Neil

Swamped by all the business to be conducted, award shows sometimes forget to entertain us. Now the Emmys (8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, CBS) have taken two important steps -- hiring Neil Patrick Harris as host and Ken Ehrlich (who has worked wonders with the Grammys) as producer. Here's the story I sent to papers; if you scroll down, you'll see a list of key nominees:


What can we expect from the Emmy telecast Sunday?

There will be music and memories, a little bit of dancing, a
little more comedy…. and a lot of Neil Patrick Harris. “Neil’s personality and
his style are what we’re going to ride for three hours,” said Jack Sussman,
CBS’ head of specials.

Harris – also CBS’ favorite Tonys host – has shown a knack
for openings that are large and offbeat. This one, producer Ken Ehrlich said,
is “something you definitely would not expect.”

Surprises are important in the show, because they’re so rare
in the awards themselves. “Modern Family” has been named best comedy in each of
its first three seasons … “The Amazing Race” has been best reality competition
series for nine of the past 10 years … “The Daily Show” tops that, being named
best variety series 10 straight times. A few HBO films tend to dominate the
movies category; “Under the Candelabra,” the Liberace tale, has already won
eight Emmys before the televised portion begins.

So the show itself needs to surprise and entertain. Those
are Ehrlich’s specialties.

For 33 years, he’s been in charge of the Grammy telecast,
which is long on music and short on talk; now – for the first time in five
years -- he returns to the Emmys, which are the opposite. “We try to bring more
entertainment and performance to the show,” he said.

Harris will provide some of the comedy, but there’s more,
including Ehrlich’s passion for music. One piece will have Elton John perform a
tribute to Liberace; another, with Carrie Underwood, will note a period, 50
years ago, when two opposite events brought Americans to their TV sets.

First was the John Kennedy assassination in November of 1963
when, Ehrlich said, TV helped “a country collectively mourn.” Then, 80 days
later, the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan show; it was a time, he said,
“when we could cheer, we could yell, we could scream.”

Another performance covers new ground: For the first time,
Ehrlich said, the choreography Emmy will be presented in prime time. To
celebrate it, the nominees were asked to combine and create a piece.

All of them, it seems, are happy to be there and be
nominated. “We’re just a couple of hip-hop dancers,” said Napoleon Dumo, nominated
with his wife Tabitha. “We got an Emmy. Are you kidding?”

Their previous Emmy (two years ago) was handed out at an
alternate ceremony, a week before the telecast. If they win this time, it will
be in prime time, on a telecast trying for music, dance and laughs.  

Emmy awards, 8-11 p.m. Sunday, CBS

The E cable channel has a preview at 5 p.m. and
red-carpet arrivals, 6-8 p.m.

The show will be split into four categories –
comedy, drama, movies-and-mini-series and reality.

In addition to the memorial segment, there will
be personalized ones for five people – James Gandolfini (Edie Falco), Cory
Monteith (Jane Lynch), Jean Stapleton (Rob Reiner), Jonathan Winters (Robin
Williams) and “Family Ties” producer Gary David Goldberg (Michael J. Fox).