Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
"Big Jim" started life as a one-off television play. Set in the 1950's (the early days of the welfare state in Britain) the working-class narrator has been to university. Home on vacation he looks out his old mates from the gang of council builders he worked with. 'Big Jim' is the foreman, Harold Perkins is their snooping, petty-minded manager.
It turns out Perkins has started an affair with Big Jim's wife and the narrator gets caught up in two revenge plots. It is a tradition in the work gang that when one member "calls on Figaro", "every bugger calls on Figaro" - a sort of all-for-one-and-one-for-all (and not to be done lightly). Even after 25 years or so the narrator is still so committed to the club's code of silence that he says he can never tell us who Figaro is (or was). In this case, Big Jim doesn't call on Figaro but the other builders do, and organise the neighbourhood to 'rough music' the adulterous couple (an old-fashioned working class shaming ritual consisting of banging pots and pans outside the house where the couple are making love, in effect saying 'We know what you're doing').
Big Jim meanwhile is secretly building something in his garage. Before leaving for university the narrator showed Jim how to use the local library and he has combined his new research and work skills (Jim is a carpenter) to build a replica Roman army ballista (a huge catapult). Jim and the narrator use the ballista to pelt Perkins's house with bags of flour and less savoury material.
The film ends with Perkins, having had to escape from Jim's place, returning to find his own house covered in grunge.
The play had a good story, strong characters, and a great sense of period. A series of half-hour programmes followed in which the gang got into some scrape, called on Figaro, and delivered their own rough justice to snobs and social climbers. For example, in one episode houses were being linked to the main sewer system. All very well, but it puts the man who empties the old septic tank out of work. So, on the day the mayor and his friends come to inspect the work, not a toilet in the street is flushed until they are inside the sewer, and then...
Maybe the cost of recreating the 1950's was too much for a half-hour comedy. Maybe the show was broadcast at the wrong time to get good viewing figures, late at night on a minority channel. For whatever reason, only six were made. Nevertheless, it was well worth watching and as you can tell from my description, the plots were memorable.
A radio series was broadcast in the early 80's but in the TV age this was a definite minority audience and part of the show's attraction was its visual recreation of 50's Britain.
Since the 1990's, several very successful British TV shows (such as 'Heartbeat') have traded on nostalgia as part of their appeal. If 'Big Jim' had arrived just a few years later, it could have caught that audience. All the same, the shows that were made were an under-appreciated gem of British television and deserved a wider public.
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