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Little Birds, Sky Atlantic review - decadence and intrigue in 1950s Morocco | reviews, news & interviews

Little Birds, Sky Atlantic review - decadence and intrigue in 1950s Morocco

Little Birds, Sky Atlantic review - decadence and intrigue in 1950s Morocco

Adaption of Anaïs Nin's stories is raunchy and risqué

Tangled up in Tangier: Hugh Skinner as Hugo, Juno Temple as Lucy

Diarist, novelist and writer of erotica Anaïs Nin lived a brilliantly-coloured life littered with affairs with literary A-listers (Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Lawrence Durrell et al).

Diarist, novelist and writer of erotica Anaïs Nin lived a brilliantly-coloured life littered with affairs with literary A-listers (Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Lawrence Durrell et al). She might have been delighted by this playfully-written and shrewdly cast dramatisation of her Little Birds story collection (Sky Atlantic), which creates a fabulously vivid and decadent picture of Tangier in the mid-1950s.

In this opening pair of episodes, we followed sheltered American heiress Lucy Savage (Juno Temple) as she ventured forth from her family’s palatial New York apartment to meet her intended husband in Tangier. Much amusement is in store from her father Grant, played with abrasive brio by David Costabile (familiar as Mike Wagner in Billions). He has made his fortune as an arms manufacturer – he gave his daughter a custom-made pistol as a going-away present – and didn’t get where he is by failing to exploit every opportunity mercilessly.

Delivered to Tangier by sleek ocean liner, Lucy is intoxicated by the sights and aromas (the photography, colour palette and production design are mind-blowing), but mortified to discover that new husband Hugo Cavendish-Smythe (Hugh Skinner) is cold and uptight. His incomprehensible indifference as she frolics naked on their bed sets alarms blaring, though we know, while she doesn’t, that he’s having a gay affair with Adham Abaza, an Egyptian aristocrat (Raphael Acloque). Skinner, recently spotted as Wills in The Windsors, is the very model of the emotionally-strangulated toff, long on inbreeding but chronically short of cash.

However, Tangier offers Lucy many compensations. She’s soon swept up in the louche social swirl of Contessa Mandrax (Rossy de Palma), whose parties bring together the city’s high life, lowlife and politicians from the French colonial regime. “What a delightful threesome you make!” the Contessa exclaimed, on seeing Lucy, Hugo and Adham together. Erotic film-maker Lili von X (Nina Sosanya) is excited by Lucy’s screen potential, while courtesan Cherifa Lamour (Yumna Marwan, pictured above), provider of provocatively eye-watering personal services to at least one member of the administration, studies her with interest. Cherifa’s rendition of "La Marseillaise" at the town’s most uninhibited nightspot El Sirocco was like a raunchy revamp of Casablanca.

But there’s more going on in Tangier than mere debauchery. The sinister French Secretary Vaney (Jean-Marc Barr) is determined to crush a nationalist rebel movement, while Grant Savage is bullying new son-in-law Hugo into becoming his North African weapons salesman. Hugo’s spectacularly inept attempt to sell Vaney some anti-aircraft missiles is sure to have tumultuous repercussions. Sensitive viewers may occasionally have to look away, but so far this is a riot.

Skinner is the very model of the emotionally-strangulated toff

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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