Storylines In Review

2019 Upcoming Attractions
Last year's attempt at covering upcoming attractions by storyline saw the year ending when we only had 10 storylines up. (The coverage was meant to be comprehensive, listing every announced title regardless, to show that the storyline was still popular, and evolving). To avoid running out of road again, this year we're covering only selected titles for each of our 50+ storylines. Each storyline is represented by a roundup of any upcoming examples of interest, up to a maximum of 10, with one selected as sounding, on its face, the most original or interesting. (This of course means a guess that the execution will fulfil its promise - something that, sadly, often fails to happen.)

#1 The 'American Dream Cracks' Storyline
For reasons that should need no explaining, this is currently a prolific storyline, with a diverse mix of settings and plot setups. (For last year’s roundup, when we took a comprehensive rather than a shortlisting approach, we covered around 100 film/tv dramas, here.)
There is no shortage of apparent contenders here, though it’s difficult to work up enthusiasm for yet another version of High Noon or The Great Gatsby (Gatz, an ‘origin series’ based on the idea he was mixed-race), or even the latest Tarantino, despite its epochal title Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and setting [1969]. (The synopsis describes it as set in “the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age” – suggesting how culturally introverted it is likely to be - I doubt this is how most people who lived through 1969 would remember it.) Deadwood The Movie, out this year after a lengthy production delay [the HBO series was cancelled in 2006], would initially seem a contender in that it shows the dark, dirty underside of the western town-taming mythos so romanticised in postwar film and tv. But this is a matter of its realist style; its actual story arc, its series premise (as its creator David Milch has said) was always the development of modern government out of the violence, mud and blood of America's primitive early days. (Set in 1889 - a decade on from the HBO series - it's "about the town’s maturing and becoming part of the Union").

Among our contenders, some official synopses actually use the phrase the American Dream, as with Human Capital, adapted by Oren Moverman from Stephen Amidon's 2005 novel. (This is perhaps as the plot setup, of two families connected by a hit-and-run traffic accident, doesn’t sound that original in itself.) This concerns two New York families— one middle-class and one privileged who “as their lives intertwine across the social divide … collide as they chase the American Dream.” The novel was previously adapted by writer-director Paolo Virzì into an award-winning 2013 Italian-language film, Il Capitale Umano. (Amidon co-adapted his senior-citizen road-trip novel The Leisure Seeker with Virzì in 2016.)
America’s homelessness crisis is the subject of The Public, written, produced and directed by Emilio Estevez, who plays a Cincinnati librarian whose workplace is occupied one freezing afternoon by “homeless patrons [who] decide to take shelter in their library for the night. What starts as a peaceful sit-in quickly escalates into a face-off with the police and the media.”
Ethan Hawke, who just played an embittered priest in the recent, award-winning drama feature First Reformed, written by its director Paul Schrader, also has a supporting role in one of those socially-aware heist thrillers, Cut Throat City, scripted by Paul Cuscheri, set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, with Hawke as a city councilman who sees the worsening deprivation around him, as do some of his old friends, who turn to crime. Hawke is also set to play an historic American figurehead, Civil War abolitionist John Brown, in an 8-episode Showtime series, Good Lord Bird, from James McBride’s 2013 ‘untraditional’ novel.
The #metoo industry-wide sexual-harassment scandal has led to a series of dramas [see last year’s coverage], and this is ongoing with Showtime’s 8-part series The Loudest Voice from Gabriel Sherman’s book, on the decline and fall of once all-powerful, now disgraced Fox News chief Roger Ailes (played by Russell Crowe in a 'fat' suit), “told through multiple points of view.”
The ongoing Facebook scandal, which we should perhaps label the “what Facebook knows about you and uses to influence your decisions” scandal, may also be revisited, in an Aaron Sorkin-proposed sequel to his 2010 The Social Network (which was on FB’s origins). This is yet untitled but not to be confused with the just-released indie mockumentary The Social Ones from writer/director Laura Kosann.
Another ongoing crisis, of California’s water supply, is the subject of 8 Winds, written and directed by Daniel J. Coplan, “a neo-noir thriller” with an offbeat approach (should we say channelling Chinatown?). Speaking of Chinatown, John Logan 's new Showtime series Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels is set in 1938 LA, “a time and place deeply infused with social and political tension.”
President Trump’s antics continue to provide a seam or satiric material, the most recent being the ‘workplace’ comedy Space Force, a Netflix sitcom created by its co-star Steve Carell, exploring this newly announced branch of the armed forces – formed to do what exactly is not clear.
America is also in the midst of its worst-ever drugs crisis, from the opioid OxyContin aka Fentanyl, originally a prescription med, which turned out to be highly addictive. (Who knew?) The US Starz channel has put in an order for a series from Gotham writer-producer Rebecca Cutter ‘touching on’ the opioid crisis, called Hightown – originally P-Town [a local nickname for the setting, Provincetown, MA, a real-life 'oxy' hotspot; you can see why they changed it now urine testing is becoming mandatory with many employments]. Here, the drug is the Mcguffin in a crime thriller set when the protagonist finds a body in Cape Cod Bay.
‘Oxy’ was also a Mcguffin in the tv series Justified, and the indie film The Evening Hour, from Carter Sickels’s award-winning 2012 debut novel, is also set in the same neck of the woods, in and around Harlan, where the protagonist avoids the dead-end fate of digging coal by slinging prescription drugs.
Also set in that backwoods vicinity is Netflix’s decades-spanning The Devil All The Time, adapted by Antonio and Paulo Campos from Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 debut novel, of a school labelled ‘Hillbilly Gothic’. “The gothic story follows a group of characters, including a serial killer couple, a faith-testing preacher, and a corrupt local sheriff, from the end of World War II to the 1960s in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia.”

The title that sounds most ‘on the nose’, for contemporary relevance at least, is Belgian-Canadian thriller Dreamland from an original script by director Nicholas Jarecki, which dramatises America’s the OxyContin /Fentanyl epidemic from 3 viewpoints. It's "billed as the first theatrical feature to tackle the international opioid crisis." See official synopsis, right.

Dreamland (2020): “The plot revolves around three colliding stories: a drug trafficker (Armie Hammer) arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S.; an architect (Evangeline Lilly) recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics; and a university professor (Gary Oldman) battles unexpected revelations about his employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.”
 #2: The Apocalypse-Survival Storyline
Last year we covered 30 titles, indicating in each case the apocalyptic event that underlay the plot … 30 instances of the world not quite ending. (Usually the event is a plague of zombies, who appear without any real explanation after some other apocalyptic event such as a nuclear war.) Many of these 30 titles are still ‘upcoming’ or in current release, so anyone desperate for a zombie fix etc, can check them out, here.
A few years ago, the critic Anne Billson wrote a Telegraph commentary piece titled ‘Enough of the apocalypse films!’ The cycle she wrote of in 2013 is still ongoing, but it’s difficult to get excited about most upcoming titles (she calls it Apocalypse Fatigue). Do we really want another War Of The Worlds [from Fox Networks] set in contemporary America when Spielberg did this in 2005 and there is a ‘period’ ie Edwardian-era set BBC production just coming out? Other productions like the German-made Tribes Of Europa [set in 2070] seem to be teens-save-the-world setups, with the apocalypse just a plot Mcguffin to give the protagonists 'agency', and any actual global extinction an event which will likely never happen - especially if you want to stretch out a series. For example, Matthew Robinson, who has successfully pitched a way to make an Edge Of Tomorrow alien-invasion sequel, has cowritten “a coming-of-age story about a young man living in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by monsters” - Monster Problems, where he learns “how to survive the Monster Apocalypse.And in The Line Between, which filmmaker Edward Burns is developing as a tv series from an upcoming Tosca Lee novel, “an ancient disease re-emerges from the melting permafrost to cause madness in its victims. As the mysterious medical cases spiral toward pandemic and an opportunistic cyber attack plunges the nation into chaos, 22-year-old doomsday cult escapee Wynter Roth, who spent her life preparing for the apocalypse, utilizes her survival skills to lead those with her to safety in a harrowing new reality. A search is underway for a writer.” (Says it all, really.)
This year, we're concentrating instead on a few quality titles. One is actually not a new production: the BBC's nuclear-war drama Threads, a classic of British realism written by Barry Hines, which was made in 1984 but is only this past year been made more widely available, in remastered editions on DVD and BluRay [issued Dec 2018]. It's hard to say whether or not its tv distribution was blocked like its predecessor The War Game, which the BBC withheld from broadcast in 1965 until 1985. Like this serial, it was based on Civil Defence procedures to show what a nuclear attack and 'nuclear winter' aftermath would actually be like.) After its initial showing, Threads was broadcast in other countries, but reportedly not seen on the BBC again until 2003.
The biggest English-language spectacular series upcoming seems likely to be the followups being produced to Mad Max Fury Road, 2016's well-received hit big-budget nonstop-action epic of the "don't talk, just drive" school. One is to be a prequel telling the back-story of the Furiosa character, but actor Tom Hardy has signed up for 3 more films in the franchise, suggesting one or two more sequels as well, with more road trips through radioactive wastelands.
China now has its own active space programme, and its film industry is said to be developing a series of scifi adventures where the protagonists must head off some global catastrophe, as with Solara, a Mandarin-language sci-fi adventure being written by the team of Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt for Renny Harlin to direct over there. (Plot details unknown, but the title suggests a solar threat.) The biggest production out so far is the feature Liu Lang Di Qiu / The Wandering Earth, written by a team of scriptwriters from a story by Cixin Liu, one of China's best-known SF writers. This Chinese space spectacular, now acquired by Netflix for US showings, has the Earth harnessed as a space ark to exit the solar system when the Sun cools, and Earth freezes, 2500 years in the future. As they approach Jupiter, a spike in its gravitational pull puts Earth on a collision course with Jupiter itself. The screenshots below indicate something of the scale of the $48M production.
#3 The ‘Artist In The Making’ Storyline
Last year, we put up a comprehensive list, by artist name, of upcoming biopics etc. Many of these were still in the scripting stage and are yet to be released, so the list is worth checking out, here.
Since then, the most high profile production, just out, is the Shakespeare late-life biopic All Is True written by Ben Elton, who since 2016 has been writing the BBC Shakespeare sitcom Upstart Crow, which uses anachronistic joke dialogue to cover his earlier years. This new, non-comedy, feature has him returning home to mend fences with his family after his London venue the Globe Theatre burns down. The fire did happen, in 1613, but the rest is apparently made up to create a ‘serious’ drama. The Hollywood trade paper Variety reviewed the film as mostly false. The film’s pretentious title of course simply invites this sort of criticism – it implies the story is historical. (The radical playwright Edward Bond’s bleak 1973 play [televised by BBC 1990] on WS’s final year, based on documentary research about local land ownership politics, by contrast was provocatively titled Bingo: Scenes Of Money And Death.)
The life of another cultural institution, American poet Emily Dickinson, who had 2 biopic works our last year [see our listing], is getting a 3rd with the SXSW feature Wild Nights With Emily, written by its director Madeleine Olnek. This makeover version “depicts her lesser-known vivaciousness and irreverence, including her lifelong romance with another woman.”
Among 20th-C artists and writers, Ayn Rand, the influential American author and political commentator (a Russian émigré famed for her free-market and anti-communist views) is having her keynote 1943 novel The Fountainhead dramatised by director Zack Snyder (best known for his superhero films). The novel, about an idealistic architect, was previously filmed in 1949 by Warner Bros, using Rand’s own script, and still has a cult following –“an iconic work in libertarian and conservative circles.” (Previous plans to adapt the novel, by Michael Cimino and Oliver Stone, came to naught.) Snyder: “I’ve always felt like The Fountainhead was such a thesis on the creative process and what it is to create something.”
Another upcoming architectural drama is The Brutalist, co-scripted by director Brady Corbet which “chronicles 30 years in the life of one artist’s enduring monolithic vision. The story opens in 1947, as a Hungarian-born Jewish architect emigrates to the United States. Initially forced to toil in poverty, he soon wins a contract that will change the course of his life.”
Inimi cicatrizate / Scarred Hearts, adapted by its director Radu Jude from an autobiographical novel by Max Blecher, was made in 2016 but not much seen abroad yet. It’s set in pre-WW2 Romania and described as “about a young Jewish writer trapped between disease and Fascism.” A young poet is immobilised by TB of the spine and spends his days at a seaside sanitorium in a Romania being taken over by Fascism. Blecher himself died in 1938 age 28 of spinal TB but his writings survived.
Another writer fighting crippling disability is the subject of Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot, adapted by its director Gus Van Sant Jack Gibson, William Andrew Eatman, and cartoonist John Callahan [died 2010] based on Callahan’s own memoir of surviving an auto accident at age 21 that left him quadriplegic, and his fight to continue drawing his cartoons, noted for their black humour about disability and related prejudice.
The performing arts will see several upcoming dramas. In Yesterday, the latest Richard Curtis comedy, from a story by Jack Barth, the Beatles have mysteriously disappeared from the consciousness of everyone on Earth except for the protagonist, a struggling musician. (I think we can guess the rest.) Singer-actress Judy Holliday is the subject of Smart Blonde, written by Willy Holtzman. The Oscar-winning Born Yesterday star was cast as a proverbial dumb blonde (on and off screen), which she wasn’t, and she was blacklisted in Hollywood as a communist before dying of breast cancer in 1965 at age 43. One film that is already released, but not widely it seems, is Juliet, Naked, adapted by Tamara Jenkins, Evgenia Peretz, and Jim Taylor from a Nick Hornby novel, about a [fictional] legendary singer-songwriter, who disappeared years before but now resurfaces with one final song album, from which the film takes its title.
Finally, the project that sounds to me the most interesting is Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, from a script Gilliam co-wrote with Tony Grisoni, which is finally to be shown this spring, after being in production for decades. It’s a multi-layered work, impossible to summarise here. (See Wikipedia page here.)
It’s not a straight adaptation of the novel or a life of its author Miguel de Cervantes, but a modern-day ad-agency director’s encounter with an old villager in Spain who believes himself to be Don Quixote, who he once played in a film. The old man insists the director must be his Sancha Panza, and the younger man finds himself caught up in surreal time-travelling adventures out of the novel.
#4 The Away-Break Crisis
Setting is a key element in this storyline. This is usually somewhere abroad, where he or she is lacking their usual social support framework, and is something of a fish out of water.
Currently, we have one set in outer space which is not a castaway-survival story like previous space-set dramas such as Gravity. This is Netflix’s 10-ep series about the first human mission to Mars, Away, written by playwright Andrew Hinderaker ‘loosely inspired by Chris Jones’s Esquire article of the same name’: “Away centers on Emma Green, an American astronaut who must leave her husband and teenage daughter behind to command an international space crew embarking upon a treacherous, yearlong mission. It is a series about hope, humanity and how ultimately, we need one another if we are to achieve impossible things.”
Corfu is the setting of the ITV sitcom The Durrells, whose 4th and final series is being shown this spring. Each episode features a crisis for every family member – Mother, Gerry, Larry, Margo, Leslie – which is resolved in Act 4. In reality, the family had to return to England on the eve of WW2, which is the one detail in this series inspired by Gerald Durrell’s memoirs that is likely to be factual, the rest being the invention of series writer Simon Nye. (The family did not return after WW2 – only for a visit in 1960 – hence this is the last series, given its token claim to be fact-based.)
Portugal is the setting for the French drama Frankie [fka A Family Vacation], co-written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias. (Frankie is the name of the character played by Isabelle Huppert.) The plot “follows three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.”
Central Ireland is the setting for what we might term a portmanteau film, with 7 interconnecting stories, Lost & Found, written by its director and star Liam O Mochain, revolving around the left-luggage office of an Irish train station. (Made in 2017, this indie production is having its international release this year.)
Irish actors Liam Neeson and his real-life son Michea´l Richardson travel to Italy for Made In Italy, written by its director James D'Arcy, about “a bohemian London artist who returns to Italy with his estranged son played by Richardson, to make a quick sale of the house they inherited from his late wife.” (Note – this is not to be confused with the tv series of the same title, on a Milan fashion magazine dynasty of the 1970s.)
Crete is the setting for the thriller Quicksand, written by Steve Lewis & Tony Owen, “which centers on British couple Dan (David Tennant) and Sarah (Emily Watson) who are living out their dream in the Mediterranean. But their paradise comes to an abrupt end when their visiting son is murdered by a local youth. Dan, grief stricken, is offered a chance at revenge by a dangerous stranger who won’t take no for an answer, but the price of revenge is one more murder.”
Various European settings appear in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1934 marital-crisis novel Tender Is The Night, now being developed by Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment as a Hulu limited series. The story lurches from one country and marital crisis to another, beginning on the Riviera before moving to Switzerland and then Berlin before returning to the US, as an American expat couple see their once glamorous lives fall apart bit by bit.
Set on the SE coast of England, Summerland, written by its director the playwright Jessica Swale, has as its main protagonist not the displaced or stranded visitor but his host. A reclusive writer who has a young evacuee from the London Blitz billeted on her plans to be rid of him but has a change of heart.
It’s back to Cicely, Alaska for a followup, by series co-creator Josh Brand, to the hit CBS 90s sitcom Northern Exposure, about a young NY doctor required to spend time against his will, to pay back his training subsidy, by working as a public-health physician in a remote community where his values are constantly challenged. In the followup series in development, Dr. Joel Fleischman returns for the funeral of an old friend.
Set in West Dorset is BBC Films’ Ammonite, about a wealthy young London woman who in the 1840s meets pioneer fossil collector Mary Anning in Lyme Regis and has an illicit romance with her. The woman [played by Saoirse Ronan] is Frances Bell, with whom Anning [played by a heavily made-up Kate Winslet] is known to have corresponded, but any intimate relationship seems to be fictional. (The setup is that Anning becomes nursemaid for Frances Bell, who is visiting while convalescing. The writer-director, Francis Lee, previously made God's Own Country, about a gay relationship between two Yorkshire farmhands, one a migrant worker from Romania, and has defended his right to impute a lesbian romance as he sees fit. It’s already been compared to the plot setup of the award-winning The Favourite, which “featured a lesbian love triangle between Queen Anne and close friends Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill.” Anning was not known to be gay, and Tracy Chevalier, who previously wrote a novel about her (Remarkable Creatures, 2009), said she seems to have had an admirer who was an army officer, but details are not known. The BBC /BFI production, which “instantly becomes one of the hottest projects in the works out of the UK” seems to have eclipsed a previous biopic, by writer-director Sharon Sheehan for Mermade Films, Mary Anning & The Dinosaur Hunters, which had been filming in Lyme Regis.
#5 The 'Best Laid Plans'
The first drama for BBC Scotland’s new digital channel will be the four-part Edinburgh-set drama Guilt, written by Neil Forsyth [Eric, Ernie And Me], about two brothers who try to conceal a fatal road accident….. Being filmed in Abu Dhabi is The Misfits, a ‘heist pic’ written by Robert Henny with Pierce Brosnan who gets into unforeseen difficulties over an elaborate gold heist…. Written by Philipp Käßbohrer, Sebastian Colley and Stefan Titze, Don’t Try This At Home has a high school student and his best friend launch 'Europe’s largest online drug business from a bedroom', in order to win back his girlfriend….
Netflix’s The Helicopter Heist is adapted by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight from the book by Swedish author Jonas Bonnier about an innovative 2009 robbery in Stockholm…. Guillermo Del Toro is co-adapting Nightmare Alley, from a novel by William Lindsay Gresham that was previously made into a cult film noir in 1947, about a con-man, ‘a mentalist whose lies and deceit prove to be his downfall' [IMDB] when he ‘teams up with a female psychiatrist to trick people into giving them money’. ….. Written by Nicolaas Zwart, Dreamland [not to be confused with the Nicholas Jarecki film listed above] is about a teen who is caught in a dilemma when he discovers a wanted female bank robber hiding in his family’s barn in 1930s Texas….. Finally, studios are already competing for screen rights to the story of the just-sentenced Anna Delvey [nee Anna Sorokin], who deceived New York businesses into accepting her as a German heiress worth $67m when she was really the daughter of a Russian truck driver....
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