Friday, 18 April 2014

The Falklands Play (2002)

The legacy of actually getting Ian Curteis' play about The Falklands to the screen is worthy of a TV dramatisation in itself.




Curteis had previously penned Suez 1956 for broadcast in 1979. Three years later the Director General of the BBC Alasdair Milne praised that play at a Writer's Luncheon Club meeting, which led to Curteis suggest his aim to write a similar play in a few years for the BBC relating to the current Falklands conflict.  Milne was suitably impressed and agreed to commission it. The project, titled The Falklands Play, was put on hold until 1985 (with both writer and the corporation in agreement that it was too much of a hot topic until then)  at which time Curteis had gathered information from Hansard, official documentation and reports, press coverage and biographies of the key and influential figures involved. Studio time was booked at TV Centre for early 1987 with a planned transmission in time for the fifth anniversary of the Argentinian invasion, 2nd April 1987.

However, Curteis began to get concerned as early as 1986. What of the planned General Election for the following year? Milne believed the earliest the election would be called would be the autumn of that year and saw no problems with the slated transmission.

Peter Goodchild, the new head of plays at the BBC however, expressed reservations towards the content of Curteis' play; specifically the portrayal of Thatcher's sympathetic private self as opposed to the public persona. He also petitioned for more exploration towards the cabinet's decision to go to war in relation to it shaping the results of the 1983 election. Curteis declined and by July 1986 news came through that the play was cancelled, citing the forthcoming '87 election.

Suspicion and protest swiftly came about  from both Curteis and the press, especially in light of the news that Charles Wood's Tumbledown (which I reviewed earlier this week) had been given the go ahead for an 87 transmission regardless. The press leapt upon the notion of Tumbledown having an 'anti-Thatcher bias' which, given the script for Tumbledown had not been published at this stage, could only be based on their previous experiences and understanding of Wood's political leaning and writing style. In the end, Tumbledown would also see postponement until 1988 whilst the BBC stood their ground claiming it would be 'irresponsible' to broadcast such a programme as The Falklands Play in an election year due to its depiction of serving MP's and a PM still in office. It also refuted the claims that studio time had been booked and that the script was a draft and in no way completed to any satisfaction -  statements that were utterly contrary to Milne's assurances towards Curteis.  

In 1987, Curteis published his script in paperback form amidst furore and accusations of left wing bias at the BBC and censorship in general.

It wasn't until 2002 that The Falklands Play finally saw the light of day, produced for both Radio 4 and BBC4.

So what's it like?

Personally I believe the distance afforded the final production (from both the international conflict itself and the internal conflict between writer and corporation)  down the intervening years helped the film immeasurably. TV has of course changed since the mid 80s and by 2002, The Falklands Play benefits from not being a stagey studio bound production (not that there's anything necessarily wrong with such a film) It also benefits greatly from a superb central performance from Patricia Hodge as Thatcher. It is a performance that is not caricature or impersonation (indeed none of the accomplished and classy cast dip their toe in such waters) and is therefore a compelling three dimensional character study that is in keeping with the film's gritty almost verite gravity. Three dimensional indeed; for this is not the Thatcher stereotype the public have come to believe and it is here we see the roots in the BBC's concern in Curteis' writing. This is a PM who not only has the familiar attributes of the hectoring voice, the deathly thousand yard stare, and the 'mettle' which saw many grey Whitehall man both cowed and excited in a manner not seen since their days with nanny or the school matron, but is also one who  cries on screen - twice in fact - over the loss of life her decisions will bring about, who is seen quite emphatically to 'take advice' regarding the sinking of The Belgrano and who staunchly championed the human rights which are seen to shape her actions throughout the war. Why, one would be forgiven for wondering if this Thatcher, who balks at the brutalist Argentinian regime of corruption and torture is the same one who was a friend and equally staunch supporter of one General Pinochet?! Make no mistake, I am not in any way shape or form a fan of Mrs Thatcher but I will not let my own political views bias or distort the notion that we are all contradictory and complex individuals who can bend and sway to whatever will or belief important at the time - 'The Iron Lady' included.

Ultimately the script does perhaps suffer from one major gaping hole; the elephant in the (war) room regarding the motives of a Conservative government jingoistically taking a country to war with a crucial election on the horizon the subsequent year. But that is not to say that Curteis script is an apologist for the Thatcher years or for the war in general. To claim so would be to miss out on the nuances and subtlety he packs into his script as he explores the hapless futility of American 'shuttle diplomacy' between the UK and Argentina, and the important questions raised leading up to the events of '82 regarding 'leaseback' and a country who, it was recorded, could not legitimately afford to control its remaining outposts of the Empire. Yes, its a dramatisation that focuses firmly on one political side, along with diplomacy, but that is the point of the work - it is to investigate the day to day events within the corridors of power, not the opposing sides, public reactions or indeed the boots on the ground perspective. We see nothing of these and that is what gives The Falklands Play its focused, tightly paced and thrilling dramatic core, as well as giving it an unprotected flank open to the criticism it received from the very off. 

Good Fryday


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : Stina Nordenstam




End Transmission


Smoking Hot


Veruschka

Le Week-End (2013)




Le Week-End wrong footed many cinemagoers who believed, upon seeing the cast list and the foreign setting, that they were in for another jolly 'Grey Pound' jaunt like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and to some extent, Quartet and A Song For Marion. But, like those payday loan adverts, they really ought to have read the small print; in this case, the team behind this film because this is a Hanif Kureishi and Roger Michell film, and its one that is indicative of their current creative stance and mindset.  

Kureishi (scriptwriter) & Michell (director)


Le Week-End is another chapter in their ongoing story (with The Mother and Venus which could be said to form something of a trilogy on a theme) of how ageing and physical decay doesn't necessarily cancel out the desire to live or to yearn for pleasures sexual and otherwise, but it does seem to make such cravings poignant and life in general unsatisfactory.



Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan star as married couple Nick and Meg, a University lecturer and secondary school teacher, who are ostensibly returning to Paris for their anniversary but may well be taking their marriage there to die. Both seem discontented with their lot and hopeful for some chance spontaneity or spark whilst they are away to reignite their lives once and for all. Meg is a brittle and emotionally unpredictable woman whose beauty may be diminishing but is still apparent. This poses a problem for Nick, a depressed man who is becoming aware that he has never truly fulfilled his potential. He's also incredibly faithful, but deeply needy; he cannot abide the thought of being alone - to the extent that he considers inviting their grown up child and his family back to the nest - and all but begs for his wife's interest sexually which only further serves to madden her and cause her to ultimately, routinely block his advances. It's clear that they can find one another infuriating, but this isn't Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; this couple have a polite, albeit paper thin mask which they habitually wear (even, one suspects, to one another when in their natural surroundings back home) To paraphrase Pink Floyd, they are 'hanging on in quiet desperation', it is after all 'The English Way'. But nothing is so one note here; they may find one another infuriating and there is tight lipped emotional savagery throughout, but it is just as clear that they still care for one another and that is evident in the film's occasional glimpses of hope and the sense that, Kureishi and Michell's message is that love and marriage isn't perfect, it's a compromise that has to be worked at - even more so after 30 years and decades of disappointment both personally and professionally.



A pleasing and lugubrious melancholy hangs over Le Week-End at an almost ironical parallel to the romantic visuals of Paris, 'the city of love' and the Godard-esque touches. It's droll, prickly and downbeat and a little unpredictable and Duncan and Broadbent are perfect. It may not be the best thing Kureishi or Michell has ever done, but why it was ignored across the board at the Baftas is beyond me.

A bittersweet ode to the baby boomer generation, as the credits roll, the aching beauty of Nick Drake's Pink Moon is the perfect note to end on.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

RIP Edna Doré

The actress Edna Dore has sadly passed away, peacefully in her sleep, aged 92.


Born Edna Gorring and raised in Bromley, she started her career as an ENSA chorus girl before working in rep for twenty years and a decade at the NT. She made her TV debut in 1959 and appeared in countless programmes down the years including Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars, Casualty, Tenko, Gavin and Stacey, Eyes Down, The Bill, Open All Hours, No Bananas, Doctor Who, Shameless and Men Behaving Badly.

Her most famous TV role was probably as Frank Butcher's battleaxe mother Mo in EastEnders from 1988 to 1990 in a storyline that showed the affects and strains of alzheimers.

For me, she is Phil Davis' mother in the 1988 Mike Leigh film High Hopes, pictured above. It was a role that saw her win the best supporting actress gong at the European Film Awards and she would go on to work with Leigh in the films All or Nothing and Another Year. He has described her in the papers as a woman who "swore like a trooper, smoked like a chimney and didn't suffer fools...she was very funny - her filthy jokes were legendary. We will all miss her no nonsense wit, her generosity and above all her uniquely truthful acting"

Edna's film career also included roles in Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth, Goodbye Charlie Bright, Tube Tales, Forty Four Inch Chest and 1998's Les Miserables.


RIP

For the 96

It was the 15th April, 1989.

25 years ago today. 



96 dead.

766 injured.




A terrible tragedy.

A disgusting cover up.





May they rest in peace.

May their families get the truth and justice they have always deserved.

Tumbledown (1988)

After watching The People's Portrait on Sunday evening which saw badly scarred Falklands veteran and inspiration Simon Weston having his portrait painted for The National Gallery after winning from a poll decided by the public fir the first time, I thought it was time to take another look at what is likely to be the definitive dramatic take on fighting that conflict; Charles Wood's 1988 drama Tumbledown, based on the exploits of another near fatally injured soldier, Robert Lawrence, MC.




Firstly, I must try to answer the inevitable complaint many have with the non linear structure of the piece; I think the crux of the film is to actually show the battle scene at the end. They do this principally because it shows us the man we've just spent nearly 2 hours with, who we've watched endure the most extreme physical and mental hardship in the wake of his trauma, who we've admired and empathised with for his bravery, actually got his near fatal wound by being very foolhardy in the field. I simply cannot imagine the film not having that pivotal scene at the very end. Not at all.

The whole point of Wood's characterisation of Lawrence is he is a man born into a military family who loved being ''a real soldier'' but had to come to terms with the schoolboy fantasies he had once he faced the realities of being a warrior, thanks to the experience of the Falklands, the trauma itself and  the equally harsh after care he endured, complete with the inefficiencies the NHS at the time had in treating military casualties,  something which the film captures with spectacular heart rending and uncompromising results. 

Perhaps the film's biggest message occurs when Lawrence attends the ceremony for the returning soldiers and had to sit there in his wheelchair and miss all of it because he cannot see past those standing in front of him. "Its as if they'd rather we didn't come back" he says bitterly. This for me, is the main point of Wood's script. In reality after the conflict, the nation had changed their minds; no more flag waving patriotism as the boys set sail, they now decreed it to being nothing more than a publicity stunt for Thatcher, and the heroes they had once pledged their devotion to were now treated and derided as little more than duped puppets or a fad, a moment of jingoism not too dissimilar to the 2012 Olympics and Jubilee. Seeing the reality of the dead and the wounded - or indeed the fit and healthy -  soldiers was something that much of the public did not want to face. It was just too stark to fit in with their views and, as the film shows, they could not comprehend why such men were 'angry' and hold a flat indifference to their experiences. The film all too painfully shows Lawrence struggling to get people to understand his situation; his doctors, his family and his friends, his nurses,  all people who cannot come to terms because they didn't experience it. 

It may have been a war that was made to win votes, but the soldiers involved of course fought it as if it was just as important as those in WWII or any other conflict, because in war there are no half measures. 




So ultimately, the film's other tragedy is borne from this notion Wood puts forward; that no one will understand the Falkland veterans, that they are an embarrassing and all too real spectre at the feast who don't fit in with the widely held view that it was all a bit of a flag waving farce. This view is clearly held by the rather annoying middle class couple to whom Lawrence relates his story too. They later discuss what a war hero should be and find both he and his friend played by Paul Rhys lacking, because they don't perceive the Falklands to have been heroic, they agree with the vote winning ideal and belief that it was all for nothing. But at least they entertained them - their daughter remained in her bedroom, with her parents pretending she was out. We see that it is because of such views that Lawrence will always be inextricably linked to the Rhys character - a man who, as the restaurant owner Tug, says to him in the pre-conflict scenes, "Isn't really your friend" - simply because of a shared experience and the perceived notion that only veterans truly understand each other, when in actual fact they are both all too aware that they had such wildly dissimilar experiences of Tumbledown. It is because they at least were both there that they are united together, for better or worse, with unspoken reservations and beliefs lingering between them.

Full praise to Charles Wood for creating what is perhaps his most stark and affecting anti war polemic (and he'd created several from Charge of The Light Brigade and How I Won The War through to A Breed of Heroes and The Long Day's Dying) It is one that is particularly for this modern age and came about just 6 years after the war, challenging some 10.5 million viewers who tuned in to watch. Praise to too Colin Firth, one the finest actors of his class and generation, giving the most amazing performance here as Lawrence. Praise to them both for the warts and all depiction of Lawrence, a man who enjoyed the brutality of war because it felt like the gung ho adventures he was brought up on, yet he equally feels embittered by the way the war chewed him up and spat him out.

A must see if ever there was one, it depicts the true unwinnable battle between harsh reality and perceived views that occurs when a nation turns its back on those who know.


The real Lawrence collected his MC with his parents

Monday, 14 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : Pet Shop Boys


End Transmission


The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)




"The Singing Ringing Tree used to make me pee my pants when I was a kid"

- Paul Whitehouse, comedian.

Small wonder then that, to get over the psychological scars he received from watching the East German export as a child, he went on to skit it with 'The Singing Ringing Binging Plinging Tinging Plinking Plonking Boinging Tree' in The Fast Show.

If you were a child in the 1960s and 70s chances are you have a similar memory to Paul's. The Singing Ringing Tree was a summer holidays perennial, broadcast under the umbrella 'Tales For Europe', and no doubt an attempt to counterbalance the American influences British schoolchildren received elsewhere on TV.

Being a little bit younger, a child of the 80s, I don't think I ever actually saw it (I do remember The Flashing Blade however) but its legend is one I'm very familiar with and I've seen many clips and The Fast Show's skit to get the gist. 

Today was my first real experience of it.



Watching it with 34 year old eyes means the terror it struck upon children on the hot and sticky summer mornings of the 1960s passed me by. 

I should also point out that I watched it sober and drug free, so I've had none of that ironic post modern 'wow this is really trippy stuff' experiences either. Though I should add its trippy enough without the aid of alcohol and narcotics!



Whilst I may have missed the actual fear I may have experienced if I viewed this as a child, I could still appreciate it for a traditional Grimms Fairytale affair (not the Disneyfied stuff you understand, but the proper unsettling morality fable which featured true evil lurking on the periphery of the happy ever afters and handsome princes who would sexually assault those sleeping beauties to allegedly save the day) featuring a prince who is turned into a bear and a spoilt princess who is turned into a harridan before realising the error of her ways in life. And the person responsible for this trickery? A truly malevolent and creepy dwarf. The message is surprisingly free of political bias as one might expect of a production from a Cold War rival and is pure and in keeping with Grimm; be nice to people or something will bad will happen to you and believe in honest feelings.




The Singing Ringing Tree was made in 1957 yet, thanks to its traditional values, its still a strong piece of well crafted entertainment. The inspired production design is a key factor here, whilst the glorious technicolour cinematography of strong primary hues, makes the costumes and landscape of the mythical kingdom heavily redolent of that other classic fairytale, MGM's The Wizard Of Oz.

If perhaps The Wizard of Oz was made by David Lynch that is.


Bumday


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : Blur

'Blow, blow me out, I am so sad, I don't know why...'


The music video for Blur's 1995 summer hit couldn't be more 90s, it's directed by Damien Hirst and it stars Keith Allen, Page 3 stunna Jo Guest, Vivienne Westwood muse and actress Sara Stockbridge and Matt Lucas, with inspiration seeming to stem from a strange mix of yesteryear - Benny Hill and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody!



End Transmission


Theme Time : Johnny Mandel & Mike Altman - M*A*S*H

Suicide Is Painless: The Theme from M*A*S*H is a song written by Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman and used as the theme for both the film and the TV adaptation of Richard Hooker's 1968 semi autobiographical novel about his time as a surgeon during the Korean War.


The song was required for a scene in the 1970 film which saw Ken Prymus' Private Seidman serenade the faux suicide of Private Waldowski played by John Schuck. The director, Robert Altman, had two stipulations for the song; that it must have the title Suicide is Painless and that it must be "the stupidest song ever written" Altman struggled to write the lyrics to match Mandel's music himself and so handed them over to his 14 year old son Mike, who is alleged to have wrote them in just five minutes. By 1980, Altman was to say that his son had earned more than a million US dollars for writing the song, whereas he had only made $70,000 for directing the film.

Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould in the film as Hawkeye and Trapper


Following the success of the 1970 film, M*A*S*H transferred to TV in 1972 for a long running and both critically and commercially successful series which ultimately came to an end in 1983 - making the show three times longer than the actual Korean War it was set in! The final ever episode broke records at the time with a staggering 125 million viewers tuning in.

As a child, I grew up with the TV series thanks to the repeats on BBC2 throughout the 80s and early 90s. The great thing about watching it then was that, like show creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds original intention, it was screened without a laugh track ("just like the actual Korean War"  as Gelbart remarked) this was something that they failed to get in the US which broadcast all episodes with a laughter track, which became less intrusive and more subdued as the seasons went on.

In the last ten years or more I've become a big fan of Altman's film and struggled to find the respect I have for the TV series whenever I've returned to watching it, because unlike those original BBC broadcasts all the cable channels over here now who run the repeats include the annoying laugh track.



Only one actor transferred from film to TV, Gary Burghoff who played Cpl. Radar O'Reilly. In 1984, one year after M*A*S*H ended, Burghoff resurrected the character of Radar, albeit briefly, for a pilot entitled W*A*L*T*E*R which saw O'Reilly return from the war, drop the nickname of Radar and become a police officer in St Louis, Missouri. This was the third spin off from M*A*S*H, the others being AfterMASH, which ran for two seasons from 1983 to 1985 before being pulled, with one episode never having been broadcast. It reunited Harry Morgan (Col Potter) Jamie Farr (Klinger) and William Christopher (Father Mulcahy) at a veterans hospital after the war. It received the dubious honour of being ranked as the 7th worst TV series ever in 2002 by TV Guide. The most succesful spin off therefore was Trapper John, MD a medical drama which ran from 1979 to 1986. Set in San Fransisco a full twenty eight years after the event of M*A*S*H and the Korean War, it starred Pernell Roberts in the title role, making him the third actor to have played the character after Elliot Gould in the film (1970) and Wayne Rogers in the TV series (1972-1975)

The cast of the TV series including Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers as Hawkeye and Trapper


But back to the song...




Suicide is Painless finally made number one in the UK in May 1980. Having previously reached number 3 in the Dutch charts ten years earlier, off the back of the film, in 1970.



In 1992 the song would be covered by Welsh band Manic Street Preachers as a double A side charity single (alongside a cover of Bryan Adams Everything I Do, I Do It For You by The Fatima Mansions) for what was then known as The Spastics Society but is now known as Scope. 


Me and My Dawg


Anna Nicole Smith