March 6th, 2009
|10:55 am - Red Riding and thoughts on British TV|
The dramatisation of David Peace's Nineteen Seventy Four was on Channel 4 last night. I want to see more of this type of intelligent programming on British TV, though I suppose the recent drop in ad revenue makes it less likely.
People should note in particular a bloody brilliant performance by Sean Bean as a horrible, horrible Yorkshireman. Also the nastiest violent beating in police custody one might ever see. Also some poor swans.
Sam Wollaston, the Guardian TV reviewer expresses my thoughts quite well.
The mood is a dark and desperate one. This is a wonderful portrait of brutality and corruption, a huge and unstoppable machine from which there is no escape... It works beautifully, and maybe begins to answer a call for a new seriousness in television. Perhaps at last someone is sitting up and taking notice of what's going on across the Atlantic. And, like the best TV from America - The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men etc - it captures a time and a place.
I think a TV niche becomes significant to programmers not as proportion of population but as absolute size (for commercial broadcaster, as it relates to absolute ad revenue). I think the sophistication of British non-televisual culture shows that we have as great (or greater) a thirst for depth and complexity as the American population. But in absolute terms our numbers are smaller: 5% (say) of 65 million is much less than 5% of 250 million. Thus the pot of money appropriate to meet the needs of this audience rarely reaches the watershed which would translate into regular programming. Though there are two irregular programming slots - the BBC classic drama, and the ITV dark drama - which can aspire in this direction.
Where British TV does excel I think is in reaching a compromise between reach and depth - because a proportion of writers, producers and directors are aspirational in this way, clearly read and view the books and films and shows that achieve depth - there is a large pool of talent who work to bring depth into popular shows. This is absolutely not to be sneezed at, and I'm not belittling it at all. There are many British dramas and comedies that I love.
However, I think that like books (let us say, SF books) there needs to be a pool of highly sophisticated non-populist - or even avant-garde - product for the writers of popular product to draw on. Only a tiny proportion of people will buy or read this product, but it improves the quality of popular product by indirect influence.
I think we have been lucky that there is an external source of this product in TV - in the relatively small, but in absolute terms large - American market for quality TV. Of course the pan-European demand is bound to be even greater, in absolute terms, but fragmented by language.
I was quite confused, because I'd vaguely gathered it was going to be about the Ripper. So eventually, when there was no sign of any females over ten being murdered, I concluded that I'd misunderstood, and it was just set in a Ripper-type milieu. Then, in the closing stages, I suddenly thought "Of course! It's a Rashomon set-up, and next week we'll get Rebecca Hall's version of what was going on, and finally David Morrissey's!" But from the trailer for next week the second episode really is about the Ripper, so evidently not. But presumably they will give Morrissey something to do at some point? I'm also hoping Eddie Marsan will reappear, as he's my latest favourite actor.
The overall quadrilogy of books is informed by the hunt for the ripper, which surfaces explicitly in the middle two books, 1977 (which they aren't filming) and 1980, which is next week's as far as I can tell.
ETA should be a lot more Eddie Marsan in subsequent episodes, though the whole thing is so pared down
Edited at 2009-03-06 03:31 pm (UTC)
I think it's tetralogy? Or quartet? Because -logies are Greek, so we're into variations on tessares instead of quattuor. (Duo and tres happen to be almost the same in Latin and Greek.)
Hey - we are watching this on television remember
You mean television is a bastard word so we might as well pursue illegitimacy all the way?
I still have hopes of changing it to telorama.
I like him too, and he keeps popping up - Vera Drake, Happy-go-Lucky (he was brilliant in that), The 39 Steps and now this.
I saw him in Little Dorrit, and thought he was so good it might be like Bleak House where everyone kept going on about how wonderful Burn Gorman was. Unfortunately no one seems to have watched Little Dorrit, but Marsan was probably better known than Gorman to start off with so it may not matter.
I saw Red Riding was available, read the description, and immediately flagged it as a must-see. Stellar cast? Set in the 1970s/1980s? Smart, thinky text? What's not to love?
I really do love British drama; even Law & Order: UK, which repurposes American scripts, managed to achieve actual excellence. (Or possibly I was blinded by Jamie Bamber's hotness. That is always a possibility.)
Sean Bean is mesmerisingly horrible. I can't make my mind up about Law and Order UK - I watch it, I can't decide. I thought last week's had a good premise, to do with the permanent destructive effect of the defence strategy on the defendant's emotional health.