When Bleasdale's original one-off play "The Black Stuff" received critical acclaim in 1980, the BBC approached the writer to expand his ideas into a mini-series of five 50 minute episodes. The result was "Boys From The Blackstuff". Each episode focuses in on the life of a different character (Snowy, Tommy, Chrissy, Yosser, George) and winds even tighter knots of anguish around their desperate struggles to find work in Liverpool, 1982, as well as starkly portraying the devastating effects of unemployment on their domestic lives (and mental health). In the first episode "Jobs For The Boys", Snowy Malone, a committed socialist and workers' revolutionary activist, tells of his inner struggles to maintain his beliefs amongst his workmates, whose understandable need for money forces them to forego their principles. Snowy dies tragically whilst fleeing the pursuing DHSS officials from the dole office. (Bleasdale's portrayal of the devious tactics of the DOE was actually very close to real life, and not at all fantastic or overplayed). More DHSS v. Claimant stuff ensued in ep. 2 "Moonlighter", wher Tommy, a decent down to earth family man, is forced to take part in a robbery while working nights as a security guard on a cargo ship. The unbearable tensions of trying to keep his family together wear away at Tommy's nerves, and the episode realistically shows the awful effects of unemployment on the family. Tommy ends up crying silently, knowing that he has in fact been degraded and dehumanised by his predicament. (I forgot to tape ep.3 "Shop Thy Neighbour", which focuses on Chrissy, so I haven't seen that one, and can't comment on it). The last two episodes are by far, the real masterpieces. Nothing can prepare the viewer to witness the sheer descent to rock-bottom which faces Yosser Hughes (brilliantly played by Bernard Hill). Yosser, a weak and flawed young man, has his home and his dearly loved children mercilessly snatched from him as his finances crumble, and ends up on the streets, clinging painfully to his washed out dream of "being someone". This is very bleak viewing indeed, but the despair is counterpointed by moments of sharp, surreal, mocking black humour. This episode surely ranks as one of the finest fifty minutes you'll ever have the privelige to spend sitting in front of the box. The superb high quality and surreal sense of resignation/defeat/humour carries on into the final episode "George's Last Ride". George Malone, ex-docker, socialist/Labour activist, political icon to a generation of workers, and symbol of an earlier era fast fading, is terminally ill. Yet still the fire of hope burns bright within him, hope for a better time, a better deal for his class. We see George's body grow weaker, as his inner spirit remains strong. He reminisces about the old days at the docks, where the workers stood shoulder to shoulder, fighting for better conditions. George breathes his last, after a passionate final cry of hope....and thos e left behind seem to realise that his passing represents the death of all that he stood for. After the emotional funeral, we cut to the utterly surreal insanity of the local pub, filled with crazy characters, the victims of unemployment, trying to drink themselves into oblivion. (This pub scene is truly unforgettable). Yosser, Chrissy and (? - sorry, forgot his character name!) exit the pub and drift aimlessly down the street, as age-old factories are being demolished on either side... "Boys from the Blackstuff" remains one of the most important and enduring TV programmes ever made in Britain, and the last two episodes (at least) can rightly be called masterpieces of television drama.
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