Two items of major new content this weekend. Neither is easy viewing, although one, the drama series, has plenty of light moments as it attempts a sweeping panorama of life during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Allen v. Farrow (starts Sunday, HBO/Crave, 9 p.m.) comes out of the blue. HBO only announced 10 days ago that the docu-series existed, and it was made largely in secret. The four-part series essentially sets out to indict Woody Allen in the matter of the accusation of abuse against him by former partner Mia Farrow and some of her children. It is not even-handed and is not meant to be. As to whether it presents a convincing case is a matter for the viewer.
Made by filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who previously made several confrontational examinations of sexual abuse in the U.S. military (The Invisible War) and on college campuses (The Hunting Ground), the series focuses on Dylan Farrow and her account of alleged abuse by Allen. In this she is supported by Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow and others. The filmmakers say they are relying on new documentation and on Dylan Farrow, now 36, and her recollections. This means it’s a disturbing account by a victim of what was undoubtedly a traumatic period.
It is important to note, mind you, that Dylan’s allegations were the subject of official investigations years ago, including one by the New York Department of Social Services, which concluded that “no credible evidence” was found. At the same time, the Connecticut State Police did not reach a clear conclusion, and the chief investigating officer cited the need to not traumatize Dylan Farrow any further. Then, of course, there is the other context: Allen had begun a relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, allegedly when Soon-Yi was in her first year of university. As far as some members of the sprawling Farrow/Allen family were concerned, Mia Farrow coached Dylan in her allegation of abuse and was motivated by revenge.
What viewers get is a complex and sometimes confusing picture of the family dynamic. Mia Farrow controls the narrative. Dylan seems coolly calm and collected. Ronan Farrow, now known as an important journalist covering the #MeToo movement, is adamant about the abuse. Yet the series does not feel complete. Over the years since the original accusations and investigations, many in the family have reignited the matter. Thus there’s an attempted evisceration of Allen’s denials, but some of it is unsupported. The best way to approach this discomforting series is to listen closely to what Dylan Farrow says. That starts with, “In the last 20 years, he’s been allowed to run amok while I’ve been trying to grow up, and I’m trying to set the record straight.” Fine. But the series does go awry attempting to analyze Allen’s films.
It’s A Sin (streams on Amazon Prime Video from Friday) has been called “a masterpiece” and both “heartbreaking” and “joyous.” One of the three terms is accurate. It’s a masterpiece in the sense that it sure has the energy and charm required to grip you with the story of a group of young men who arrived in London in the early 1980s and began living as openly gay. Series creator Russell T. Davies (Years and Years, A Very English Scandal and the original Queer as Folk) sets out to celebrate with loads of sizzle and fun, before AIDS looms over this community and anger and loss become dominant. To call it a rollercoaster is an understatement.
At first the central character is very-bourgeois Ritchie (Olly Alexander) who lands in London to study law but soon changes to drama-studies because that’s where his tribe is. Soon he’s sharing an apartment with other gay men and their backgrounds are presented. One of the dramatic delights, at first, is the handling of how several of these young men are openly gay in London, and closeted at home with their families. An underlying theme is how some characters fully embrace queer-power and protest as AIDS decimates the community, and others retreat. Based on the evidence of early episodes, it has formidable oomph both as comedy and drama.
Also airing this weekend
Women’s Soccer: Canada versus USA (Saturday, CBC, 4 p.m.) is drawn to your attention because it’s women’s soccer and, of course, a great rivalry. The match actually took place Thursday in Florida, part of the SheBelieves Cup tournament, but streamed only on the rather high-priced OneSoccer platform. You can know the result in advance. But note that this will be a thinned-out Canada team, featuring several young, promising players, and Canada has a new head coach in Bev Priestman.
Finally, note the arrival of a dazzling sci-fi dystopian drama on Netflix from Friday. Tribes of Europa is about battling ministates in a postapocalyptic Europe. It comes from the team that made Netflix’s German series, Dark and is in German with English subtitles. What caused the apocalypse? Well in 2029 it was, “Lights off and darkness. And that was it. The Middle Ages.”
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