Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Follow The Yellow Brick Road (1972)



Dennis Potter's 1972 TV play Follow The Yellow Brick Road concerns Jack Black (Denholm Elliott) an actor who specialises in advertisements. He prefers them to TV plays. "The commercials are clean" he reasons "Husbands and wives who love each other...there's laughter and sunshine and kids playing in the meadows" he chooses commercials because he believes they are the direct and much needed opposite of the "Dirty and corrupt" plays which he feels do nothing but damage to our society. "They turn the gold into hay, angels into whores...love into a s-s-sticky slime!" he claims with disgust, adding that they are written by left wing Trotskyites who "pass the clap round like a baton race" and reduce the world to the "hairy lump between a woman's legs. That stinking hole!"

As you can probably guess, Jack Black is not a well man.



We first meet him in a hospital waiting room where - we later learn - he is waiting to be seen by a psychiatrist. Our suspicions regarding his mental illness are neatly conveyed by a twitchy performance from Elliott and Potter's central conceit; Black thinks a TV camera is always observing him, that he lives in a play. "Not much action is there?" he complains as he waits his turn "Hardly any dialogue at all. Just background noises. People will switch over. Or switch off!" A fellow patient, the old woman next to him, he believes to be an extra "You don't get many lines do you?" he asks. But she recognises him from the TV; an advert for Krispy Krunch biscuits in which he sneaks downstairs to the larder for a midnight snack only to find his wife already devouring the product. It's hi real wife playing on his mind as the old woman gleefully recounts the ad however. The wife (Billie Whitelaw) whom he caught in flagrante with his agent (Bernard Hepton) "Had her mouth full didn't she?" the old woman says, still thinking of the biscuit ad "Really enjoying it and all"

It's a brilliant opening scene that reminds me just why I love Dennis Potter's cheeky subversive humour. I also admire his ideas too; as we see in the subsequent scene with Richard Vernon and a young Dennis Waterman as the shrinks, Black once believed in God, and that God was omnipresent, all knowing and all watching. But somewhere along the line God was replaced by a TV camera as his observer and that's when life became a living hell of filth, corruption and slime. It's abundantly clear, though never explicitly stated, that Jack Black has had a traumatic breakdown as a result of his wife's affair. An adultery she committed because Black is impotent or simply uninterested in sex - with her, at least, because later he attempts to politely and prissily express his devotion to his agent's airheaded young wife (Michelle Dotrice). When she cuts through all the flowery language and announces he should unzip her from her dress Potter's play cuts to an advert, specifically one of Black's adverts (this time for Waggytail dog food) it is however clear to us that he could not go through with the seduction after all. "And I didn't even open the tin" Black's hapless commercial character remarks.



It's a neat and knowing trick, the ads within the play, and this is a successful example of the device being used. Less successful and altogether less clear is when  we see Black driving directly at his adulterous wife with murderous intentions because "It's in the script", before we see the car hit her the action cuts to an advert, leaving the viewer in the dark as to the wife's fate. It's not the first time Potter has been so purposefully cavalier in his work and it wouldn't be the last either, but it doesn't stop the viewer feeling a little bit cheated in terms of real drama and a sense of conclusion. 

With its longing for a more pure and idyllic world that probably never even existed in the first place and its allusions to the similarly pure but ultimately false fantasy of The Wizard Of Oz, Follow The Yellow Brick Road is a typical example of a Potter play but it runs out of steam fairly quickly and lacks the maturity and firmer cohesive conviction to the ideas, the drama and the comedy that he would later bring to serials such as The Singing Detective and Pennies From Heaven and single plays like Blue Remembered Hills

There's a nice though cruel little dig at the Ken Loach film Family Life though; when Waterman prescribes Black a new drug for depression he claims he had given it to a patient whose malaise was brought on through watching said film!  Equally he has a funny little pop at the clean cut Cliff Richard, suggesting that Black and he are up for the same role in a new TV series as a fish out of water cleric in the East End.



Like a lot of single plays from the 60s, 70s and 80s, Follow The Yellow Brick Road currentlys remain languishing in the BBC vaults unwatched (though it is available to watch on YouTube) To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classics please sign the petition I started here

Two Minutes Hate : Saints and Scroungers


The Two Minutes Hate was a propaganda tool and cathartic release for the masses in George Orwell's 1984; a daily period in which the party members of Oceania must watch a film complete with audio and visual depictions of the Party's enemies and express their hatred for them. 

The purpose of the Two Minutes Hate is satisfy the masses subdued feelings of angst and hatred from leading their miserable, controlled existence and re-directing these feelings away from the Oceanian government towards external enemies (which probably do not even exist), in an attempt by the Party to minimize subversive thought and behavior and keep everyone under their control.

Or as we call it currently on BBC1 daytime, Saints and Scroungers





Like the odious Jeremy Kyle on ITV, Saints and Scroungers serves as our very own Two Minutes Hate by parading before our eyes the most disadvantaged and fraudulent in society. The programme has two intentions; to show the 'saints', people who have severe hardship and haven't realised what they're entitled to, and the 'scroungers' those who milk the welfare state for all it is worth. It is this latter class of people the establishment want us to feel disgusted by and hate. They welcome our anger and jeers, deflecting us away from similar criminal and fraudulent activities from the most advantaged in society - namely big business, bankers and politicians - the 'white collar' class where the real crime actually occurs. Because, despite the BBC screening Saints and Scroungers every day ad infinitum, benefit fraud really accounts for just a tiny amount of fraudulent crime committed in the country overall, as this statistical breakdown from the CAB shows here 

So how come the BBC doesn't do a Saints and Scroungers style programme based on the crimes of insider traders and dodgy bankers? There certainly wouldn't be any scarcity of material for them to show and the 'Saint' element could be those philanthropists who routinely give something back to society from their riches. And how come Matt Allwright, the smug, finger wagging Saints and Scroungers host has never felt the need to showcase the benefit fraud committed by his former TV colleague Dan Penteado?

They don't because like Orwell's Two Minute Hate they want us to focus instead on what simply isn't there. They want us to fight among ourselves rather than take the fight to their door. The BBC and the establishment want us to focus instead on the smaller crimes being committed in our own class until we become like a dog chasing its own tail, oblivious to what's really going on around us.


Wordless Wednesday : Precinct Patrol


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Spongers (1978)

"If you're poor you're to blame. If you're on welfare, then you're fiddling"



Shame on the BBC for not repeating this. The reason they won't is because they know it's too relevant, too controversial to broadcast it again. A screening would provoke anger and see the scales drop from the eyes of so many as to what kind of society we find ourselves in. If they aired this right now, the forthcoming election in May would certainly have a very different result that's for sure.

The Spongers, Jim Allen's 1978 Play For Today, details the plight of Pauline, a single parent (superbly played by Christine Hargreaves) to four children, the eldest of whom is a 14 yr old with Down Syndrome, residing in care. During the Silver Jubilee celebrations of 1977 we see Pauline unable to cope on the pittance given to her in benefit, the bailiffs are at her door determined to take her furniture away, the DHSS refuse to help her any further, Social Services' hands are tied, and finally her 14 year old daughter has been transferred from her happy residential home and is forced to live in an utterly unsuitable old people's home because it is deemed 'in her best interests' by the powers that be who have never even met her - in reality, it's a cost cutting exercise thanks to central government stripping mental health care down to the bone. You know right from the off that this isn't the kind of film to have a happy ending, but nothing will prepare you for the sucker punches the play gives you at each and every turn and its ability to stay with you long after you've witnessed it.



Her father, played by the great Peter Kerrigan, perhaps sums it up best when he recalls the hardships of the Great Depression in 1933 and how, after the Labour landslide of 1945 "I never thought we'd see those days again now" (and equally his Blackstuff co-star Bernard Hill, on fine fiery form as a community worker, gives us the fine summary of the general consensus towards the disadvantaged in our society as quoted at the top of this review) His complete bewilderment and horror to find those days returned in the fag end of a disastrous Labour government is all too palpable and our hindsight allows us to know that the horrors did not end there thanks a vicious Concervative government coming to power two years later. In 2012, thirty five years on from the setting of The Spongers, the country celebrated yet another anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II; the Diamond Jubilee. As part of the 'celebrations' the private contractors whom the DWP employ to help the unemployed back into employment, education or training forced around 80 people to work for nothing during the Thames flotilla pageant as stewards to gain precious experience. Should they have declined, they would have lost their benefit and had sanctions imposed upon them. When those who arrived in London queried where they would sleep for the night, they were told to sleep on the streets (read about this shameful conduct here) Three years on and and benefit sanctions still prove a very real threat, designed to agitate claimants into withdrawing their claim, saving the govt money and reducing the unemployment figures (which you can read about here) whilst mental health services continue to be cut leaving modern day Pauline's under the same precarious position depicted here (more details here) The contemporary resonance felt in watching The Spongers today utterly sickens me. Like Peter Kerrigan's character, after 1997 Labour landslide, I had once thought those days were all over too.




I apologise that this isn't much of a review. If you watch The Spongers (and it is available to watch in full for free on YouTube) you'll feel just as angry and impassioned I am sure. If you do not, then I fear there's something wrong with you, or you're a Tory - not that the two aren't mutually exclusive. All I will say is that this film is extremely naturalistic, well directed by Roland Joffe in his debut, brilliantly written by the late great Jim Allen and produced by the brilliant Tony Garnett, the man who also helped bring Cathy Come Home to our screens a decade earlier. That that film is held as the benchmark of socially conscious film making and respected as such, whilst The Spongers remains its suppressed poor relation despite its same quality does, I think, speaks volumes.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic Play For Today's please sign the petition I started here

The Price of Coal : Meet the People & Back to Reality (1977)

It will come as no surprise that Ken Loach's 'Film for the Silver Jubilee' (as a caption during the titles daringly has it) is less than reverential to the Windsor family and the pomp and ceremony they inspire.



Meet The People was the first of two Play For Today's under the title The Price of Coal, which depicts a South Yorkshire mining community and reunited Loach with his long time producer Tony Garnett and Kes writer Barry Hines.

This first film concerns a Royal visit to the colliery from the Prince of Wales and produces much comedy, including widespread painting and improvements to make the colliery look good for HRH's inspection, two Bomb Squad officers growing suspicious of an unattended lunchbox, someone painting 'Scargill Rules OK' on the wall and the Prince's helicopter blowing off a character's toupee. One scene I really enjoyed was the dry run of the visit with a palace emissary acting as the Prince being introduced to a variety of employees by the brown nosing officious colliery manager. He describes one old stalwart as having put in "41 years loyal service at the pit" to which the old man - sans teeth - replies "Loyal service? I had no bloody choice!"



Loach bolsters his cast with club comedians and entertainers like Bobby Knutt (above), Duggie Brown, Stan Richards (who later found fame as Seth in Emmerdale) and Rita May to name but a few - a casting approach he has used time and time again and is rewarded with naturalistic performances and dialogue on each occasion. But aside from the comedy, serious issues are also raised. Bobby Knutt's miner Sid's protests at the sudden splurge of spending for repairs now after years of neglect, just because a Windsor is descending upon them. 




There is also a strong undercurrent of just how politically strong miners were back in the day running through the film like a rich seam, but it's not as politically overt as some of Loach's other films it is more, as Hines had said, 'entertaining propaganda' Kudos to a BBC that dared to broadcast something so anti-Royal during the Silver Jubilee year; this and Jim Allen's The Spongers are key examples of a public service broadcaster unafraid to show differing points of view, unlike the bias the corporation has now. We never had anything like it in the Golden or Diamond Jubilee's that's for sure!



This second play is certainly the other side of the coin and is steeped in drama and tragedy to balance the first's sense of fun and comedy. A fatal underground accident displays the heroism of miners and rescue workers and gives us a sense of the inherent danger in mining for coal, as well as community spirit and safety negligence from a management being pushed and, in turn, pushing too hard to achieve production targets. Back to Reality takes place one month after the events of Meet the People - which foreshadowed the tragedy here with a brief reference to a mining disaster which occurred in the early 1900s on the same day as a previous Royal visit. History would clearly repeat itself, but it would also bide its time. 



Brian Tufano's excellent photography really captures the claustrophobia and uncertainty of being underground and the designers did a fantastic job constructing an underground tunnel in a slag heap to film in. Loach's direction and Hines' script steer safely clear of melodrama and the cliched trappings of disaster movies or emergency serials and, in being unafraid to linger on the banality of a crisis - the long wait into the night for concerned relatives, their endless cups of tea, the fug of chain smoking and their washed out faces losing optimism by the hour, depicts totally realistic and naturalistic depiction of a crisis that feels more like a fly on the wall to a real tragic event than a piece of fiction. 




Both Price of Coal films are available on the excellent boxset Ken Loach at the BBC, along with many other great Play for Today's Ken helmed. But some aren't as lucky and remain languishing in the BBC vaults unwatched. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic Play For Today's please sign the petition I started here

Monday, 26 January 2015

Out On Blue Six : REM


End Transmission



RIP Demis Roussos

"Laurence, Angela likes Demis Roussos. Tony likes Demis Roussos. I like Demis Roussos, and Sue would like to hear Demis Roussos: So please, do you think we could have Demis Roussos on?"

- Alison Steadman as Beverley in Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party.


Sadly as Greece celebrates the excellent victory for anti-austerity party Syriza at the election, the famous Greek performer who provided such a sore point in Leigh's brilliant play and whose hit 1976 song Forever and Ever graced its soundtrack, has died today at a hospital in Athens aged 68. 



Born in Egypt to a Greek father and an Italian mother, Roussos arrived in Greece in the early 60s after his family lost their possessions during the Suez crisis. At the age of 17, he formed a band called The Idols alongside Vangelis and the pair would subsequently go on to form the brilliant prog rock outfit Aphrodite's Child.



Going solo in the 70s, Roussos gave the UK one of the biggest hits of the long hot summer of 1976 in Forever and Ever, whilst his fondness for kaftans hiding his massive girth earned him the nickname 'The Kaftan King'. Subsequent hits included My Friend The Wind and My Reason.

In 1985 Roussos spent his 39th birthday held hostage by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah after the TWA Flight 847 he had boarded was hijacked at gunpoint.



RIP

Bumday


A vintage bathing suit bumday from the excellent Honey Rider tumblr site

Sunday, 25 January 2015

RIP Barrie Ingham

News of another sad loss, veteran smoothie Barrie Ingham has passed away aged 82.


An accomplished stage actor with both the RSC and on Broadway, Ingham also starred in a host of popular television series on both sides of the Atlantic from the title role of Hine (above), Doctor Who, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Bergerac and The Power Game to The A-Team, Matlock, Remington Steele, Murder She Wrote and Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

He also starred in several films including a role as Alydon one of the Thals in Dr. Who and the Daleks, the title role of Robin Hood in A Challenge for Robin Hood, The Day of the Jackal and perhaps most evergreen of all, he was the voice of Basil The Great Mouse Detective.

RIP

Silent Sunday : This Is Bradford


Son of Man (1969)





Son of Man is a 1969 edition of the BBC's Wednesday Play strand. Written by Dennis Potter, no stranger to controversy, it tells a truncated version of the Gospel story from the Temptations in the Wilderness to the Crucifixion, excluding the miracles and the majority of the parables, to depict a very human Jesus Christ - as befits the play's title and one of the names Jesus is said to have referred to himself by - played by a fiery, blunt and enthusiastic Irish Colin Blakely.




Described as less the Messiah and more 'Brendan Behan holding court in a public house' Potter's Jesus as brought to life by Blakely angered many, including the NVLA's watchdog Mary Whitehouse who unsurprisingly enough wanted Potter prosecuted for blasphemy. It's a shame really because, whilst Potter deliberately moves away from what he called 'the milk and water Christ' traditionally depicted to show us a man with all the doubt and faults associated with humanity, he does not stray from the Christian message which is palpable - and perhaps even more relatable as a result - throughout.

As Potter said himself;

"There's this brave, witty, sometimes oddly petulant man striding around in an occupied territory knowing and then not wanting to know that he's bound to die and die painfully. And in the middle of it all, to say things that have never been said, and are still not said, about love. As a model of what human behaviour can be like, it still stands supreme"




It's interesting to note that Potter's play emphatically ends with Christ's crucifixion. There is no welcoming comfort or optimism of resurrection here which implies that he is very specifically 'son of man' rather than 'son of God' - a hangover perhaps to Potter's original intention with the play, which was to show a preacher in the Forest of Dean suffering delusions that he was Christ. Equally it also implies that Christ's teachings of love for all and turning the other cheek will always led to failure, violence and death by the establishment. In many respects this lends the piece an air of the modern parable especially reflective of the contemporary society at the time of production, with Potter's Jesus akin to a late 60s revolutionary who is aware that the traditional left (in this case Judaism) are now hand in hand with the capitalist occupying forces (the Romans)  and incites his followers to public demonstration to affect a real change but knows perhaps through his visions that he is always doomed to fail just as Potter knows that westernised capitalism will still have a stranglehold upon us now. Son of Man continues the themes of much of Potter's work; the sense that everything is fated from the off and impossible to change and the stripping back of sentimentality and complete demolition of nostalgia to reveal how everything has always been as it is now.




Sadly the weighty themes inherent in the piece does not make it as grand as it perhaps ought to be and the production is hampered from the off by being shot completely in the studio, much to Potter's dismay, as befitted the TV style and budgetary restraints of the time. A strong cast do their best, notably Blakely, Robert Hardy as Pilate, Brian Blessed as Peter and Edward Hardwicke as Judas, and it is clear they believe in the merit of Potter's play which keeps the thing never less than watchable. A few gory set pieces surprise too and one presumes this stood out from the usual offerings in the schedules back in 1969.




This is just one gem from The Wednesday Play, a precursor to the BBC's Play For Today and Screen One/Screen Two. Many of these are rarely shown on TV and remain unreleased on DVD. The only way to view these greats are on YouTube (where this is available) or via collectors online willing to sell via homemade DVD. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Eichmann Show (2015)

It wasn't only Wolf Hall this week on BBC2, there was also the docudrama The Eichmann Show




“You don’t think one represents our dark past and the other our glittering future?” 

This is the question someone poses to documentary filmmaker and the man responsible for the coverage of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Leo Hurwitz, after his broadcasts start to lose audiences to Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight.

It's something I hadn't realised before, the nature of competition against the slow, worldwide realisation of the holocaust. It's quite staggering really to consider how the news, world shaping and changing events could be viewed as selective, preferring one over the other. Of course what the person posing the question completely misses is that it is learning the horrors, crimes and errors of our dark past that is ultimately necessary to make our future a glittering one.



This absorbing docudrama from the BBC attempted to show how two men; producer Milton Fruchtman (Martin Freeman, faultless as ever) and blacklisted director Hurwitz (Anthony LaPaglia) brought the 'trial of the century' and, for the first time, the shocking details of the final solution into the living rooms of the world.

It's a classy, well intentioned production but ultimately the sheer horror of Eichmann's crimes means that the prop from which to hang the story upon - the efforts to televise the trial - pales into insignificance. It is of course the real archive clips of the testimonies that grip you and remain with you, not the drama around it. In any case the script rather muffs the endeavors and best intentions of Fruchtman and Hurwitz  by rushing the premise considerably in the opening stages of the film and skipping over the  issues the myriad of issues they faced - the protestations on ethical grounds that a trial should not resort to becoming a 'show trial' which led to the ban on visible cameras in the courtroom, death threats against the lives of Fruchtman and his family - leaving their drive, motivation and character somewhat hollow. Perhaps if they had chose to make this as a mini series, in a similar though naturally more respectful vein to The Hour, rather than a 90 minute docudrama, they may have succeeded in giving each element a chance to breathe and develop.


Smoking Hot


Sweeney 2 (1978)

After a rewatch of Nick Love's 2012 reboot of the much loved 70s police drama last weekend, I needed to watch some of the real thing again and its great to see John Thaw and Dennis Waterman as THE Regan and Carter - their partnership and chemistry immediately palpable in a way that Love's film, with Ray Winstone and Ben Drew, could not hope to emulate.




Sweeney 2 was the second big screen spin off from the Euston Films TV series, following 1976's Sweeney! which was helmed by David Wickes from a Ranald Graham script. This time around, the director is series veteran Tom Clegg and the script writing duties falls to Troy Kennedy Martin, creator of Z Cars and brother of The Sweeney creator Ian. For better or worse, this big screen sequel is much more like an extended bigger budget episode of the TV series than the first cinematic instalment was, which was essentially a hard edged, bitter political thriller; interestingly, when Love's update was first announced it was mooted that it would be a straight remake of Sweeney! and it's rather a shame he changed his mind really, as the themes in Ranald Graham's story are still rather relevant today.




The plot for this adventure concerns a group of armed bank robbers headed up by Ken Hutchison. Incredibly skilled and successful, the blaggers are also utterly remorseless and violent - preferring to kill their own rather than leave a man behind. A series of bank jobs mystify the Flying Squad as each occasion sees the gang getting  with an amount around the £60,000 mark, leaving behind cash in excess of this sum and a trail of bodies. All inquiries regarding the gang lead to a luxury hideaway villa in Malta, but pinning anything on them there will prove hard for our heroes. 




Unlike Sweeney!, the great thing about this sequel is that Troy Kennedy Martin truly appreciated the ability to mix humour with action and drama in his brother's series. As a result he offers up some crisp, salty and sardonic dialogue that continues to delight on repeated viewings. There's so many great moments I love in this film, here are just a few of them...




Regan's riposte to his former guvnor's barrister when asked to give evidence in the dock during his trial for corruption; "Your client is so bent that it's been impossible to hang his pictures straight on the office wall for the past twelve months" Incidentally, the guv here is played by Denholm Elliot but it was initially planned to be Garfield Morgan, returning to the role of Haskins, the guv from the TV series. Yes Minister's Nigel Hawthorne appears here as a new bureaucratic boss and thorn in Regan's side. 




Ken Hutchison getting all Dirty Harry with his gold plated sawn off Purdey shotgun "You're privileged to be looking down the barrels of a gold plated sawn off Purdey shotgun. Now as a bank manager, you'll appreciate that any man capable of cutting a gun like that in half wouldn't think twice about cutting you in half"

When Carter and a couple of officers (including the great but underused Derrick O'Connor) are called out to arrest a man attempting to put arsenic in a brewery, they inevitably come back to the station steaming drunk - obviously they tested the product to make sure!

A shout to a hotel where a telephonist overheard a guest talking about a bomb in his room sees the entire squad, the armed response and several coppers from other departments (including Hazell's Choc Minty actor Roddy McMillan and Minder's Chisholm Patrick Malahide) helping themselves to the bar whilst poor old Carter dons a waiter's uniform to face the bomber by himself! Meanwhile Regan, quaffing whisky, also takes a shot at chatting up the telephonist played by Budgie's ex missus Georgina Hale.




When Georgina Hale turns up at Regan's flat for a romantic rendezvous she finds him dead to the world with half a bottle of whisky inside of him. His murmured words before she secretes the front door key he left with her inside his undies? "George" Talk about bromance!

When Derrick O'Conner's character is berated by Regan for commenting on two incredibly well endowed young girls walking by whilst on a stakeout, he apologises and replies; "It's a combination of nerves and smoking too much. I get this hard on like a milk bottle" 




Regan's exasperation with his new driver, Robert the vegetarian chinless wonder who refuses to pack anything other than an apple for his lunch.

It's not all laughs though and when Regan is walked through the carnage from the first raid which sees several civilians dead including a bank worker held hostage and a passing lollipop man he glumly remarks "I've never seen so many dead people" to which Carter defensively and somewhat choked, replies "They were shooting at us and we were shooting at them"




That's how you do it Nick Love!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Trishna (2011)



In Trishna, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles is transported to modern day Jaipur by the mercurial and prolific Micheal Winterbottom, his third Hardy adaptation (Jude in 1996 from Jude the Obscure and 2000's The Claim based on The Mayor Of Casterbridge precede it) and sadly one of his lesser works.

Riz Ahmed stars as Jay the son of a rich Jaipur hotelier (Roshan Seth) with ambitions to be a key player in the Bollywood film industry. We meet him instantly, travelling with friends visiting ancient temples and, like any young man in both Hardy's time and now, drinking beer and discussing girls. One girl in question utterly captivates him one evening at a traditional party; this is Trishna, played by Freida Pinto, a beautiful untouched young girl who dreams of being a dancer. 



Trishna comes from a poor family. Her father works as a delivery driver but inadvertently places the family into penury and both himself and Trishna into physical injury when he  falls asleep at the wheel, crashing his jeep head on into a bus - a smart little updated twist on one of the novel's most famous scenes. Hearing about Trishna's accident,  Jay wangles a job for her at his dad's hotel, putting into motion a doomed relationship.

As anyone familiar with either Hardy's original novel or one of the many film/TV adaptations can see from reading Trishna's plot precis, it takes great contemporary liberties with the source material. Tess' familial plight and her father's delusions of grandeur that shape the body of the novel are jettisoned in favour of a fixed and firm early focus on the character of Jay. But just who is Jay - is he Angel Clare or is he Alec d'Urberville? Winterbottom favours an ambiguity that is both interesting and frustrating to those familiar with Tess.



Personally I've no issue with changing things up a bit, but the story has to sustain that interest and unfortunately this is something that Trishna ultimately fails at. Despite its modernity and its rich, well captured location work, Winterbottom's film remains unfocused and flabby and the normally reliable leads Ahmed and Pinto seem to struggle in conveying their characters pain, love and journey.


Blue Remembered Hills (1979)




It says something about the uncompromising creative nature of Dennis Potter that what is considered his most accessible work features not only seven adult actors playing children but also a startling and deeply disturbing ending that has haunted me since I first saw it as a young teenager and chilled me again watching it yesterday.




Set in the Potter's beloved Forest of Dean in the long summer holiday of 1943, Blue Remembered Hills depicts four boys whose imagination and play has been deeply affected by the ongoing war. Deep within their Eden like forest, they play war games, fantasise about being commandos, marines and parachutists, they joke and bicker and kill a squirrel. Meanwhile two girls are playing house in a nearby barn with a shy, somewhat outcast boy they taunt and tease, before moving on to join the four boys leaving the boy to remain by himself. Their games are interrupted by the sound of a nearby siren denoting an escaped Italian POW from the local camp and the play culminates with them all witnessing and being involved in a tragic accident. I'm not going to say any more because if you haven't seen it any further comment would spoil the plot and its ability to surprise. Just watch it.


Colin Welland as Willie

Michael Elphick as Peter

Helen Mirren as Angela

Janine Duvitski as Audrey

Colin Jeavons as Donald

Robin Ellis as John

John Bird as Raymond


The central conceit of casting adult actors in the roles of children isn't just a stunt to gain attention or appear to be fashionably and progressively arty; Potter's play primarily concerns itself with stripping away the cliched sentimental notions of childhood innocence. Indeed the title itself, taken from a Housman poem which Potter can be heard to quote over the film's last image, is meant to be sarcastic and ironic as the writer's firm belief was that childhood was not transparent with innocence or a state of grace. The adult actors (Colin Welland, Michael Elphick, Robin Ellis, Helen Mirren, Janine Duvitski, John Bird and Colin Jeavons - all brilliant) are cast to bring focus to the characters actions and their fidgety body language and magnify their behaviour and help the audience relate to it more.  There's little innocence in scenes depicting lying, thieving and brutality as the status quo amongst juveniles for us to become nostalgic about and, as such, we see the play and our own childhood through less than rose tinted glasses. There's also the theological implications to consider, Potter tipping us the wink from the off with two of the boys squabbling over a cooking apple; this is their garden of Eden where sin will be committed.




Blue Remembered Hills remains a flawless production and, thanks to numerous theatrical stagings, has become Potter's most durable piece of work since its original transmission here in the BBC's Play For Today strand. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic Play For Today's please sign the petition I started here 


Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
 
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.