Dec 27, 2008

Visual Foolery

Fabulous abstract painting? Look again.

It's the Carina Nebula as photographed by NASA. More stunning photos of other nebulas can be found at BLD blog (scroll to the bottom.)

Dec 25, 2008

Remembering Eartha Kitt: Santa Baby

Rest in peace, you beautiful kitten. Purrrrrrr!

Here's her take on An Old Fashioned Girl. Hah!

Dec 23, 2008

Christmas Sweater Winners

The other night a friend and I were strolling down the tony part of Monument Ave and walked past a mansion that was hosting a lah dee dah party. The chubby hostess wore an ugly Christmas Sweater, prompting my friend to say, "A good income does not necessarily translate into good taste."

Ah, Christmas, a time of ugly sweaters at parties. Here's a twist on the Christmas sweater: Bliss certainly had a unique take on a time honored tradition last year.

Stuff White People Like also features ugly Christmas Sweaters. I rather liked this blog until I realized it was one long ad for a book. Meh. In one year this blog racked up 51 million hits. Jealous much, Vic? Yeah. This post is funnier: Fugly Ass Christmas Sweater of the Day.

Best Tacky Christmas Sweater gets my vote for pix with really ugly sweaters in 'Ode to the Joyously Ugly'.

Epically Ugly Christmas Sweaters offers 34 images of ticky tacky wool jumpers.

Oooooh, don't you just love the Holiday Season?

Image: Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in Bridget Joneses Diary.

Dec 22, 2008

Merry Humbug

Imagine making the following statement to your banker after receiving a hefty loan, or to your IRS agent during an audit:

"We're choosing not to disclose that."
"The money can't be tracked," or "We're not providing dollar-in, dollar-out tracking."
"We are going to decline to comment."
"We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it. We've not given any accounting of, 'Here's how we're doing it."

These are statements that bank representatives made to Matt Apuzzo, an AP press writer, in Where Did the Bailout Money Go? Ssssh. It's a Secret.

WHAT COLLOSSAL NERVE. It's my money, you neo-criminals. Actually, it's OUR TAXPAYER money, not yours. You'd foreclose my grandmother's house faster than an eye can blink, and now you want to drag your heels in telling us how you are using the bailout money that helped to keep you afloat.

Bah humbug. If I could live without banks, I would. The idea of paying their exorbitant near-usurers' fees to handle my hard-earned money has teed me off for years. Now, knowing how poorly they've handled my finances, which skirts criminality, the thought of these institutions even touching my savings, pension, and checking accounts makes me physically sick. I am so fiscally responsible that I have no debts, not even on a credit card, my car, or my house, and have watched the mortgage debacle unfold over recent years in horror. Question: What idiot loans $100,000 without requesting a down payment or collatoral, or receiving assurances that a repayment can be made? Answer: A bank. Now that they have our money - again - they're smiling at us like Chesire cats, daring us to guess what they're doing with our dough.

Do you trust them? I don't.

I hope on a personal level that these overpaid, underperforming executives placed their bonuses in Madoff's funds. Now that would be justice. As for me - their nose-in-the-air attitude is the last straw for me. I am consolidating all my finances and will hide my stash under a mattress. It has a chance of being as safe there as in a bank, brokerage firm, or pension fund.

Dec 3, 2008

Margaret and Helen: Two Little Ol' Ladies with Claws

You just have to love these two little ol' ladies - Margaret and Helen, best friends for over 60 years and counting - and as outspoken and smart as anyone 1/5 their age. Their humble blog has received over a million hits, and why? Because they tell it like it is. Read their posts, then read their readers comments. Hilarious, yet real.

Here's a passage from 28% of Americans Don't Believe Sarah Palin is an Idiot - "That was a hoot. All those people reading my little blog and getting so upset. Who knew there were so many people who still enjoy hearing Palin talk? Then again who knew Palin supporters were smart enough to read? "


Nov 30, 2008

Storied Triangle: Pattie Boyd, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and the Three Songs She Inspired

Every Beatles fan knows the story. George, the handsome Beatle, married Pattie Boyd, the model with the long legs and gap between her teeth. On her wedding day she wore a mini-skirt and a fur coat, and looked oh-so trendy. She not only epitomized London in the swinging 60's, like models Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy, but she inspired George Harrison and Eric Clapton to write songs in her honor: George wrote "Something", and Eric wrote "Laya" and "Wonderful Tonight".
George and Eric were best friends when Eric went after her. He succeeded in winning her away from George after nine years of marriage. By the time she and Eric married, Clapton was already a drug addict and alcoholic. Their marriage ended ten years later in 1988 when Pattie, who had undergone IVF treatment in the attempt to have a baby, found out Clapton was expecting a child with Italian model Lori Del Santo. (Eric's son died at four or five from a fall out of an open window.) Pattie divorced Eric, but unknown to her at the time he'd also sired a daughter out of wedlock with yet another woman.

George sings "Something" in this YouTube video.

Derrick and the Dominoes sing "Layla"

Photographer John French took these trendy photos. The one above reminds me of the outfits that Audrey Hepburn for Courreges. The caps especially are reminiscent of those the stewardesses wore in "2001: A Space Odyssey". (Pattie is on the right.)

The look below was also typical of that era: teased hair, black curled eyelashes, prim collar, pastel color, long skirt length, and white hose.

Quintessential 60's: Patti Boyd (with the Rolling Stones) in a Mary Quant Dress. Click here to see the rest of John French's incredible 50's and 60's photos.

The fascinating story of this threesome continues in these links. George has since died, but both Pattie and Eric have written their memoirs, which are quoted below.

Eric sings "Wonderful Tonight."

Pattie today.


Nov 25, 2008

Bonnie Hunt Spoofs the Real Housewives of Atlanta

Bravo is showing The Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion tonight, but Bonnie Hunt has the real spoof. This is an hysterical take on Kim and NeNe. 'Nuff said.

Nov 24, 2008

Art History Quiz

Click here to take the quiz.

This is an easy to medium quiz and l scored 100%. Can you? (Careful, the answer key sits in the second link.)

Nov 22, 2008

A Model Ages 50 Years in Vogue Photos

In this post featured in the 2008 November issue of Paris Vogue and entitled De 10 A 60 Ans - (click here to see), a 20-something model named Eniko Mihalik is made to look 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old. I think the photographs are eerily accurate for all but the last age. The skin is too tight for a 60-year-old, and her eyes are too wide and open. Even with lighting and makeup, the last shot was simply not believable. Still, this is an interesting exercise.

Click on the above link, or on this one for the rest of the photos. Vogue Paris, November 2008 with Eniko Mihalik, by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, styled by Carine Roitfeld, make-up by Lisa Butler.

By the way, doesn't Johnny Depp's significant other, Vanessa Paradis, look smashing on the cover?

Nov 21, 2008

Alistair Cooke Special to Air on PBS Masterpiece Contemporary, November 23

Filth is still available for viewing through this Sunday on PBS's site at this link. If you've missed the film, starring Julie Walters, it is certainly worth watching.

This Sunday PBS Masterpiece Contemporary will show The Unseen Alistair Cooke, former Masterpiece Theatre host. The Unseen Alistair Cooke: A Masterpiece Special chronicles Cooke's decades in America, friendships with Hollywood icons, celebrated journalism career and years as host of Masterpiece Theatre. In addition, you can sign up for a free copy of Reporting America by Alistair Cooke. Click here to find out how.

Nov 13, 2008

Why Palin Still Matters

Update: For those who are incensed that I chose Andrew Sullivan's comments (below) to reflect my strong opinions on this topic, here's a reminder of this woman's inability to think strategically or rationally - The infamous Turkey Pardon video:

I know that Sarah is not responsible for the inhumane treatment of turkeys for consumption, but the woman ought to read this article before yapping her flap in front of a worldwide audience in the pretense of "saving" a mere one.

Wonder why Palin still matters? Here are some cogent observations from Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic that should not be ignored (for the full article, click on the link):

Palin is claiming vindication, is on every cable show, is at the National Governors Association Conference, and is touted as a future leader of the GOP. There comes a point at which you have to simply call a time out and insist that this farce cease and some basic accountability and transparency be restored to the process.

That the Palin absurdity should follow the two-term presidency of another individual utterly out of his depth in national government is particularly troubling. 46 percent of Americans voted for the possibility of this blank slate as president because she somehow echoed their own sense of religious or cultural "identity".
It happened because John McCain is an incompetent and a cynic and reckless beyond measure. To have picked someone he'd only met once before, without any serious vetting procedure, revealed McCain as an utterly unserious character, a man whose devotion to the shallowest form of political gamesmanship trumped concern for his country's or his party's interest. We need a full accounting of the vetting process: who was responsible for this act of political malpractice? How could a veep not be vetted in any serious way? Why was she not asked to withdraw as soon as the facts of her massive ignorance and delusional psyche were revealed?

Palin was the reductio ad absurdum of this mindset: a mannequin candidate, easily controlled ideologically, deployed to fool and corral the resentful and the frightened, removed from serious scrutiny and sold on propaganda networks like a food product.

This deluded and delusional woman still doesn't understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her - but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Nov 11, 2008

Filth Will Air on Masterpiece Contemporary November 16

One of the burdens of living in a free society is being exposed to thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that we find offensive. While I don’t mind a few swear words in films and movies or non-pornographic sex scenes that are tastefully filmed, I find any gratuitous violence – the kind designed to titillate and entertain – extremely offensive and harmful. Living in a free society I have a choice: Don’t read, look at, or listen to anything that contains unnecessary violence.

Easier said than done. In our culture, violence as entertainment is hard to ignore, and no matter how diligent I am in trying to remove such images from my life, I cannot totally erase them. That is the burden of living in a democracy: we simply cannot regulate everything to our liking. For every person who abhors violence, there is a person who enjoys such dramas. Who am I to force them to think otherwise through legislation?

Mary Whitehouse, the heroine in Filth, was put off by anything that had an overtly or implied sexual theme, including Chuck Berry's song, My-Ding-A Ling. According to Mary's lily white, middle class, Anglo Saxon point of view, the BBC needed to be cleaned up and watched carefully. In the 50’s and 60’s, most families owned only one television set and they gathered around it to watch a show together. Any jarring or embarrassing scenes were seen by all, including the pastor who stopped by for dinner. Like me, Mary Whitehouse had a choice, but instead of turning off her television set, she became a one-woman crusader for family values. The trouble was: whose values did she stand for?

Filth, an odd name that does not accurately reflect the humor in this PBS film, is the story of Mary Whitehouse's real life crusade against the BBC. As described by PBS, "Filth is the true, timely, and hysterically funny story of Mary Whitehouse, a moral watchdog barking at the heels of swinging England in the 1960s. Shocked by the teatime broadcast of a BBC program about premarital sex, Whitehouse (played to uptight perfection by Julie Walters) rises from her quaint suburban life to do battle with the innovative, taboo-breaking head of the BBC, Sir Hugh Greene (memorably played by Hugh Bonneville, below)."

As played by Julie Walters, Mary is a charming, determined, and resourceful woman. A middle class, past-her-prime, ungifted art teacher, Mary’s primary focus in life are her husband (Alun Armstrong in photo at bottom) and three sons. While Mary is incensed at the filth she sees on television, the film depicts her as blindly unaware of the actual events going on around her, such as the wife beater who lives in her neighborhood, or a male couple having sex in the woods as she walks by them. She is so single-minded in her role as moral watchdog, that she fails to notice the rather inappropriate acronym created by her slogan. The film is filled with these deft and often humorous touches.

The costumes and sets are spot on and every inch as beautiful as the1960's sets designed for Mad Men, an award winning t.v. show set in that era. The cinematography is unforgettable. I was mesmerized by the closeups of Mary's/Julie's hideous glasses and enjoyed the frequent unusual juxtaposition of costume, setting, and camera angles as seen in the two images below.

Mary before her first big rally.

Mary walking down the stairwell in her home.

The plot is weightier than the movie at first implies. With its light musical score and idyllic English village setting, it seemed similar to Calendar Girls, another film in which Julie Walters starred. But the tone of the film changes when Mary sees a sex scene at tea time, and from that moment on the film takes on an edge. In real life "Mary Whitehouse's bête noire was Hugh Greene, the Director-General of the BBC from 1960 to 1969, who ignored her campaign and refused to meet her, and it was the renewal of the BBC's Charter in 1964 that gave her a chance to act. She drafted a petition objecting to the "propaganda of disbelief, dirt and doubt" broadcast by the corporation, and attracted nearly half a million signatures in the next two years, transforming her crusade into the National Viewers and Listeners Association."

The real Mary Whitehouse at left

Forty-five years after Whitehouse began her campaign, the issue of what is and what is not acceptable for broadcast television is still alive and well in this country, as evidenced by the US Supreme Court decision to revisit the issue.

To clean up what could be construed as filthy language, PBS has remastered portions of the movie. Click here to see what I mean.

Nov 9, 2008

God on Trial Airs Tonight

"You will weep, but you will also think. And although the weeping will stop fairly soon after the credits role, with any luck, the thinking will not."

The reviews are in and God on Trial is a critical hit. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the film challenging to watch:

"Frank Cottrell Boyce has crafted a brilliant script, which doesn't only look at why God would inflict such horrible things on the Jews while allowing Hitler and his henchmen to live. Although specifically about Jewish prisoners during World War II, the film has universal appeal in the fundamental questions of existence that every human being has to ask, even minimally, at one point or other in his or her life."

Comments from The Los Angeles Times:

"That [the actors] are wonderful, riveting and at times difficult to watch is no surprise, and if their utter Britishness -- no attempts at other European accents here -- is a bit jarring at first, it is soon forgotten. For although the various arguments made during "God on Trial" never deviate from the specific concerns of the Chosen People, larger questions crowd the drama's edges like the silent, rapt men who follow the trial from their bunks.

The nature and existence of God, the nature and necessity of faith, the role humans occupy in the universe and, most important, how to reconcile the idea of a loving deity with the ongoing tragedy of war and genocide.

They are big topics addressed with a striking lack of sentimentality, quite a feat considering the setting. You will weep, but you will also think. And although the weeping will stop fairly soon after the credits role, with any luck, the thinking will not."

The Edge from The Boston Herald declares that this brilliant movie feels like a play.

"“The reason why you do something about the Holocaust is to find out if you can do something about evil,” [Executive Producer] Redhead said. “The civilizing acts of conducting a trial in the face of evil can give shape and meaning to life.”

Life loses its meaning when children are snatched from parents’ arms and sons are forced to dig their mothers’ graves. As the prisoners relay their stories, viewers learn of a world that is no more, a world gone mad."

On First Things, Anthony Sacramone describes the film as compelling:

"And if you think this tale is intended for Jews alone, don’t tell that to Frank Cottrell Boyce, from whose pen the intelligent and provocative script flowed. Boyce, whose previous scripts include Welcome to Sarajevo and Hillary and Jackie, is not even Jewish but a believing Catholic. He drew inspiration for his drama from an event depicted by Elie Wiesel in his play The Trial of God. Wiesel contends he had witnessed such a trial as a child in the death camps."

Telegraph UK: Interview with Anthony Sher, who played Akiba, a Polish Rabbi.

The film airs tonight on PBS Masterpiece Contemporary at 9 pm EST. If you missed seeing it the first time, or would like to view it again, you can view the video from November 10 until November 16 on PBS. Click here.

Nov 1, 2008

God on Trial, November 9th on PBS

When I invited a group of friends to view the PBS screener of God on Trial, no one expressed interest. The holocaust was just too depressing they said. Having lost three male relatives in a Japanese concentration camp, including my grandfather, I felt I HAD to view this film to honor their memory. While it was not an easy drama to watch, I was riveted. I have already seen the screener twice and intend to view it again. There are too few occasions in one's life when a television drama this intelligent and important comes along, and I urge every parent to watch it with their children and every teacher to show it to their class. The lessons of the holocaust and the evils perpetrated by the Nazis must not be lost, and I am afraid that this cataclysmic event is already becoming a dim memory. As importantly, this script is an exploration of man's faith and relationship with God in a way that make one reexamine one's own faith or reaffirm it. We hear many viewpoints and I found myself debating along with the men, and wondering if I would be as emotionally involved in such a discussion hours before my death. Before I knew it, this tense, tightly directed drama was over.

The film is based on the unconfirmed story that a group of Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners consisting of mostly educators, lawyers, and scientists, convened a rabbinical court to put God on trial for abandoning his chosen people. Half the prisoners are spending their last night on earth, but due to the Nazi's cruel methods of choosing their victims, none of them knows who will die in the gas chambers the next day.

The acting is superb. Familiar actors like Rupert Graves (above), Jack Shepherd, (above), Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen Dillane (left), Blake Ritson, and Dominic Cooper (right) are barely recognizable with their shaved heads and wearing prison garb. I imagine all of them must have jumped on the chance to act in such a meaty and riveting story. I was particularly struck by Stephen Dillane's portrayal of Schmidt, a well-educated rabbi. He exuded the same quiet intelligence in this role as he did as Thomas Jefferson in John Adams.

This important film airs on Sunday, November 9th, on the 70th anniversary of Kristellnacht. The video will also stream online the full week after the broadcast.
  • BBC Press Office - find a full synopsis of the story, a behind the scenes video, and full description of the characters and the actors who played them.

Oct 29, 2008

Palin vs. Fruit Flies: Fruit Flies Win

I don't think that Todd Palmer or Rob Pringle will mind me downloading their post verbatim. After all, their point about Palin's complete lack of scientific knowledge must be made. So here is their column featured on Huffington Post:

"Today, we are blogging from Durham, North Carolina, where we are trying to do our humble bit to help elect Barack Obama. On Friday, Sarah Palin gave us yet another reason to feel good about what we're doing here.

We are far from the first people to comment on this subject -- even within the Huffington Post -- so we'll keep it brief. But Palin's mockery of "fruit fly research" during her October 24th speech on special-needs children was so misconceived, so offensive, so aggressively stupid, and so dangerous that we felt we had to comment.

Here's the excerpt from the speech:

"Where does a lot of that earmark money end up, anyway? [...] You've heard about, um, these -- some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes these dollars they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not!"

It's hard to know where to begin deconstructing this statement. This was a speech on autism, and Palin's critics have pounced on the fact that a recent study of Drosophila fruit flies showed that a protein called neurexin is essential for proper neurological function -- a discovery with clear implications for autism research.

Awkward! But this critique merely scrapes icing off the cake.

Fruit flies are more than just the occasional vehicles for research relevant to human disabilities. They are literally the foundation of modern genetics, the original model organism that has enabled us to discover so much of what we know about heredity, genome structure, congenital disorders, and (yes) evolution. So for Palin to state that "fruit fly research" has "little or nothing to do with the public good" is not just wrong -- it's mind-boggling.

What else does this blunder say about Palin and her candidacy? Many people have used it as just another opportunity to call her a dummy, since anyone who has stayed awake through even a portion of a high-school-level biology class knows what fruit flies are good for. But leave that aside for a second. Watch the clip. Listen to the tone of her voice as she sneers the words "fruit fly research." Check out the disdain and incredulity on her face. How would science, basic or applied, fare under President Palin?

We have other questions. Who wrote this speech? Was he or she as ignorant as Palin about the central role that fruit flies have played in the last century of biomedical research? Or was this a calculated slight to science and scientists -- a coded way of saying, "We don't care what you know or what you think"? We find it odd that, of all the examples of dubious expenditures of public funds, the speechwriters alighted on this one.

Whatever the explanation, it scares us. Everyone who has suffered, either personally or indirectly, from an inherited illness, and anyone whose life has been lengthened or enriched by modern medicine, should channel Palin's flip comment when they stand in the voting booth on November 4th."

Oct 22, 2008

Clean Campaigning from the Obama Camp

I live in Virginia, a battleground state. Tonight I received a sleazy robocall from a canned Rudolph Guiliani tape. You remember him. He's the guy whose son would not endorse him for president because of Guiliani's ugly divorce battle with his ex-wife and blatant in-your-face affair with Judith Nathan. At the same time that the Guiliani tape was wrongly accusing Obama of being soft on crime, I received the following classy e-mail message from Joe Biden, Obama's VP candidate:

Next Wednesday, October 29th, is a perfect night for supporters like you to host a party in your home.

Barack will appear on TV at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for 30 minutes. He'll share a positive message with Americans and discuss his plans for healthcare reform, economic recovery, and a responsible end to the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, John McCain will continue his negative attacks, inundating swing voters with sleazy "robocalls" -- automated phone calls spreading lies about Barack.

And we need you to help fight back by reaching out to fellow supporters one-on-one and sharing the truth about Barack and his message of change.

Host a Last Call for Change house party next Wednesday. Invite everyone you know to watch Barack's 30-minute presentation and make important phone calls to voters in key battleground states.

Don't miss out on this opportunity to gather with friends and neighbors and make a big difference in this election. Host a Last Call for Change house party on Wednesday, October 29th.

I'd like to tell you we don't have to worry about automated "hate calls," as McCain once called them.

They don't hurt Barack or me. But they hurt Americans by distracting from the issues that matter. And the polls have been narrowing.

That's why it's so important for folks like you to bring together your friends, family, and neighbors to watch Barack and reach out to voters.

You can help supporters find their polling location or simply talk to voters who need to hear the truth about Barack. Just one phone call from you is enough to counteract dozens of these dishonest "robocalls."

Take the lead in your community now and sign up to host a Last Call for Change house party. We'll give you all the guidance you need:

It's up to us to show that this grassroots movement will do what it takes to change politics in America.

Thanks for everything you're doing,


Oct 17, 2008

Oct 13, 2008

Paint Like Jackson Pollock

Want to have some fun and paint like Jackson Pollock? Click here and let your mouse run wild.

As you can see, easier said than done. I am no Pollock.

Sep 30, 2008

The Last Enemy on PBS: May We See Your I.D. Please?

A half century ago Orwell predicted Big Brother's eye watching over everyone. The scenario seemed preposterous, scary, and so far, far away that future generations would have to deal with the issue. Not us. Well, 1984 has come and gone and privacy as we once knew it has disappeared. We have become a surveillance society. Cameras in plain view follow my actions at the bank, at intersections, through toll booths, in airport terminals, and while shopping. Credit card companies follow my every purchase, phone companies detail every call I make, and online libraries, bookstores, and movie rentals track my personal preferences. Imagine my chagrin when a computerized gizmo makes suggestions based on past purchases. Google and Firefox brazenly record each site I visit, and from space satellites take images of my neighborhood that are so detailed that I can see my car parked on its pad.

It boggles the mind to think what would happen if some entity decided to brand me by my credit cards, driver's license, passport, citizenship papers and other vital pieces of identification. How would I be able to travel or do banking or purchase a house or do anything that required legal documentation? Or what if some bureaucrat decided that I belonged on a public enemies' list or that I required extra surveillance without my knowledge, and that I had no course of appeal because all of this was done in secret on behalf of the state?

The Last Enemy, a modern drama written by screenwriter Peter Berry, prompted these thoughts. This five-part contemporary drama, will be show on Masterpiece Contemporary on PBS Sunday October 5th through November 2nd.

Spurred by heightening surveillance and identity laws in contemporary England, Peter Berry crafted The Last Enemy as a cautionary fable of post-9/11 society, where technological and political trends are converging on a culture that is the antithesis of everything represented by Britain's ancient charter of individual liberty, Magna Carta.

"There are those who would argue that the innocent have nothing to hide," says Berry, "but soon the innocent are going to have to prove that they are in fact innocent - suspects until proven innocent by the data logged on their ID cards. Ordinary citizens will become the enemy - the last enemy."
The first episode sets up the series. Stephen Ezard returns to London to attend his brother Michael's funeral after fours years of doing mathematical research in China. Mysterious events occur almost immediately. A female refugee dies in his apartment, then her body disappears. Stephen meets Michael's widow and almost immediately starts and affair with her. When he is kidnapped by a rogue agent he learns that microbiologists are dropping like flies, dying of unnatural causes. I won't give the plot away except to say that Stephen and his paramour, Yasim, are instrumental in unraveling the clues of this modern thriller.

The characters:

Robert Carlysle as Russell, the mysterious agent

Benedict Cumberbatch: Stephen Ezard, the mathematician

Max Beesley: Michael Ezard, Stephen's brother

Annamaria Marinca: Yasim Anwar, Michael's widow

Geraldine James: Barbara Turney, the PM's assistant