I saw this for the first time just recently (by virtue of BBC4) and was massively impressed. I am a sucker for 70's and early 80's television generally but found the standard of acting exceptional even for those days.
If anything, the feel of the programme came across as closer to 1981 when it was made than its early 1970's setting, but that makes little difference. The biting satire of the novel - ruthlessly executed here by Anthony Sher with marvellous support, most notably, from Michael Hordern and Paul Brooke - is against a culture that existed in both eras. Having been born at the start of the 70's, I remember with hazy fondness the post 60's pseudo hippie types exemplified by Sher's principal character, Howard Kirk. Kirk's profound hypocrisy and, in the words of the text itself, "moral turpitude" provide the subtext for the piece, and are conveyed by Sher with sublime subtlety. The character is, most of all, cunning, not least with regard to his attempted manipulation of the various young women lured into his sphere of operation. The word predatory is perhaps overused nowadays, but is applicable here nonetheless.
The novel, I firmly believe, was based on Sussex University and Brighton. Sadly, the student radicalism and "crusty" protest culture of the 70's and 80's, which clung on in Brighton longer than most places, is pretty much dead there also. Perhaps this digresses from the subject but the History Man reminded me of a time before the bland apathy of New Labour's Britain had set in and politics mattered. Students were students rather than just consumers with bigger overdrafts.
However, nostalgia aside, the History Man is superb production and will hopefully be out on DVD in the near future (for consumers like myself to buy).
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