Talking Heads (1987)

TV Mini-Series  |  Drama
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Six monologues tell the stories of six different repressed souls: a man dominated by his mother, a vicar's wife, an inveterate letter writer, a hopeful actress, a recently widowed woman, ... See full summary »

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Title: Talking Heads (1987– )

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Complete series cast summary:
 Graham Whittaker (1 episode, 1988)
 Muriel (1 episode, 1988)
Thora Hird ...
 Doris (1 episode, 1988)
 Miss Ruddock (1 episode, 1988)
 Susan (1 episode, 1988)
 Lesley (1 episode, 1988)


Six monologues tell the stories of six different repressed souls: a man dominated by his mother, a vicar's wife, an inveterate letter writer, a hopeful actress, a recently widowed woman, and an elderly shut-in. Written by Kathy Li

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Release Date:

19 April 1988 (UK)  »

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Followed by Talking Heads 2 (1998) See more »

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Very well written observational pieces naturally delivered by a great cast
30 July 2004 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

In a series of six monologues, six individuals relate their feelings as they tell their stories. A repressed adult son who only wants the best for his mother, a woman dealing with the passing of her husband, a serial complainer who cannot see the harm she is doing, a vicar's wife dealing with her desire for sex and alcohol, a woman looking for her break in life and an elderly woman trying to keep out of a home who suffers a fall in her home.

Having enjoyed a retrospective of good British writing from Jack Rosenthal (albeit as a result of his death earlier this year) I was in the mood for more of the same and decided to dig out my copy of Alan Bennett's 1987 series of monologues. In each little play the plot is different and the characters, although not that diverse in terms of ethnicity or class, have pretty different characters. Each story is told quite simply and yet they reveal a great deal about the people. This is down to the writing – imagine our work colleagues, usually it takes months to figure them out but here we are allowed deep into the characters in a very short period of time. For the majority of the monologues, the stories are very easy to get into a quite involving and it is enjoyable to sit at the feet of these characters and just listen – even if we would probably not give them the time of day in real life. Some of the stories are not as assured (Her Big Chance didn't grab me) but they are mostly very good.

The writing is spot on, although it may not transfer well out of Britain. The observation on both British life and the specifics of these characters is inspired and very well written; it never entered my head that these were not real people. The focus on the white, lower middle class and (generally) middle aged could be criticised by some ('where is the ethnic voice' the misguided PC police have cried) but this is simply Bennett sticking to the people he knows and can realistically bring to the page. Of course, his writing is only helped by a great cast, all of whom deliver the material as natural as if they had lived their lives all along. Cocking a snook at those who say there are no good roles for middle-aged women, Bennett gives many actresses a chance to shine and most of them do. Walters is good but her episode is the lesser of the 6 and I wasn't taken in by it enough to really appreciate her performance. Cole is superbly English and middleclass; likewise Maggie Smith is spot on even if her segment is a bit of a stretch in some regards. Routledge is very good in a character that she would return to in a smaller and more comic style in Keeping Up Appearances, but she is much better here in a serious role. Of course the stand out performances are from Hird and Bennett himself. Thora Hird is hardly the top of anyone's list of great actresses but she is very good here. Bennett takes a rather pathetic character and make him a person that we feel for and get behind without betraying the character with his delivery.

I rarely use the phrase 'they don't make 'em like this anymore' but it certainly applies to this series as I have yet to see anything that compares with the quality and style of Talking Heads. It will not be everyone's cup of tea (those who dismiss it on the basis of it being old people talking are only missing out) and the observational writing will not translate as well to those not familiar with life in Britain but it is very well written by Bennett and naturally delivered by a talented cast. A very British delight.

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