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Reworking material from his first novel, "Hide and Seek" (1973), and folding this into a prismatic blend of autobiographical details, popular music and 1940s film noir, Dennis Potter delivered a drama now regarded as a 20th-century masterwork. Detective novelist Philip Marlow (Michael Gambon) suffers from the crippling disease of psoriatic arthritis. Confined to a hospital bed, Marlow mentally rewrites his early Chandleresque thriller, "The Singing Detective," with himself in the title role, drifting into a surreal 1945 fantasy of spies and criminals, along with vivid memories of a childhood in the Forest of Dean. As past events and 1940s songs surface in his subconscious, Marlow's voyage of self-discovery provides a key to conquering his illness, while his noir-styled hallucinations evoke the Philip Marlowe of Chandler's "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), starring Dick Powell, who later became a "singing detective" on radio's "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (1949), crooning to ... Written by
Bhob Stewart <email@example.com>
This is Dennis Potter's 'Sergeant Pepper' - the work of his life. One of those times when the recurring themes and characters from an artist's collected works come together at the right moment, with the right direction and the right actors.
The story is simple - embittered, sarcastic, over-the-hill author is admitted to hospital with a highly disfiguring skin condition. Whilst lying virtually helpless in his bed, he begins to rewrite one of his pulp novels (The Singing Detective) and to reminisce on his childhood in the Forest of Dean and London. But the memories and fiction start to overlap, with some hallucinations thrown in for good measure!
In the hands of lesser mortals, this could have been a disaster (I fear for the 2003 remake. Robert Downey Jr?!). But the direction of Amiel and the acting of the entire cast are outstanding. Michael Gambon is stunning as the (initially) sour and downright nasty Marlowe. That we sympathise with him given all of his shortcomings is testament to this.
The subtext is of a man exorcising his demons and coming to terms with his guilt: guilt about the death of his mother, guilt about his treatment of the women in his life, guilt about his victimisation of a schoolmate.
One of those films that is like a giant jigsaw - at first what appear to be a random collection of unrelated images which are rearranged, flipped over and pieced together. Ultimately we are presented with solutions to everything - almost.
After all, not everything has a solution...
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