On my radar: Tobias Menzies’s cultural highlights

The star of Game of Thrones and The Crown on his favourite political podcast, a gripping French spy drama, and why the UK hasn’t had enough of experts

Actor Tobias Menzies, 47, was born in London and trained at Rada. He was Golden Globe-nominated for his roles in the Jacobite drama Outlander and as Prince Philip in The Crown, a performance for which Menzies was also Bafta-shortlisted. He’s an experienced stage actor, with acclaimed roles in many Chekhov and Shakespeare productions, and is a regular performer at the Almeida theatre. On TV, he has also starred in Rome, The Terror and Game of Thrones. He plays Richard in the second series of Aisling Bea’s comedy This Way Up, currently on Channel 4.

1. Album

Ultra Mono by Idles

Watch the video for Mr Motivator by Idles.

I’ve been playing this a huge amount. They’re a Bristol band who are a brilliant combination of rage and wit. It’s hard not to be angry about some of the stuff that’s going on, so it feels appropriate for Brexit Britain. The lyrics are whip-smart, the riffs are propulsive and they’re an authentic voice. They’re punk but also write very beautiful songs: one track, A Hymn, is absolutely gorgeous. They also have an amazing line in artwork and videos. The other song I’m listening to on a loop is Old Peel by Aldous Harding – she has an amazing voice.

John Maynard Keynes by Robert Skidelsky

2. Book

John Maynard Keynes 1883-1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman by Robert Skidelsky

I did an event last week with Helena Bonham Carter at Charleston festival, reading the letters between John Maynard Keynes and his wife, the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. So in preparation, I delved into this weighty tome and it’s fascinating. What an extraordinary man. He was arguably the dominant economist of the 20th century but was also part of the Bloomsbury set and instrumental in establishing the Arts Council. I had no idea he was such a polymath. It’s not for the faint-hearted because it’s a terrifyingly large book, but it’s a very interesting read about a very interesting life.

3. Podcast

Prison Break (BBC Sounds)

Josie Bevan, host of Prison Break, and her family, before her husband Rob was jailed.
Josie Bevan, host of Prison Break, with her family, before her husband Rob was jailed. Photograph: Josie Bevan

This looks at the British criminal justice system and whether it’s fit for purpose. Presenter Josie Bevan is even-handed but reveals some stark truths. We have some of the highest incarceration and recidivism rates in Europe, so something isn’t working. It’s an illuminating, stirring meditation on punishment and rehabilitation. I’d recommend it as a companion piece to Jimmy McGovern’s brilliant drama Time. Podcasts have been a huge part of my pandemic life. Another favourite is Talking Politics: History of Ideas, where David Runciman traces the history of political thinking. We haven’t had enough of experts. Come back, experts, all is forgiven.

4. Exhibition

Ryoji Ikeda, 180 The Strand, London

Ryoji Ikeda’s Data-verse trilogy at 180 The Strand.
Ryoji Ikeda’s Data-verse trilogy at 180 The Strand. Photograph: Jack Hems/180 The Strand, 2021

He’s a Japanese artist and composer, and this is an immersive exploration of light and sound. The ambition and chutzpah was thrilling. It’s largely underground in a series of multi-sensory rooms; there might be an unnerving repetitive sequence of neon lights or speakers playing a not entirely pleasant sound. At the heart of it was one room with a video triptych called Data-verse on huge hi-res screens: it combined visualisations of genomic data with planetary maps and scans of the human brain. It was monumental, slightly overwhelming but strangely calming. One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time.

5. TV

The Bureau

Mathieu Kassovitz (left) in The Bureau.
Mathieu Kassovitz (left) in The Bureau. Photograph: Amazon

I’ve been binge-watching this French spy drama and I’m currently on season three of five. It’s the anti-Bond, digging into the quotidian, procedural nature of espionage. None of it’s fast or sexy. Nobody wears a bow tie. It’s about day-to-day bureaucracy in drab offices, but it’s beautifully written and performed. I love the way that long-form TV, when done properly, can play out what it has to say over time with a slow-building, confident narrative. I’d love to be in it but my French is appalling so I’d have to play some Englishman on secondment.

6. Film

8½ (dir Federico Fellini, 1963)

Marcello Mastroianni.
‘Astoundingly modern’: Marcello Mastroianni as Guido. Photograph: AF archive/Alamy

I’ve recently been discovering the work of Federico Fellini and my favourite so far has been . It’s a strange and beautiful thing. It follows Guido, a celebrated director and a version of Fellini himself, trying to make a film as he struggles with creative block and a midlife crisis. It’s a dazzling mixture of autobiography, dreamscape and meditation on the creative process. It was also exciting to discover the acting of Marcello Mastroianni, who is astoundingly modern as Guido. He’s the subtle, nuanced and deeply charismatic centre to this fluid and visionary film.


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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