|Index||6 reviews in total|
The original Talking Heads had such an incredible impact on everything
followed, that it is almost impossible to know where to begin. I can
remember watching this, on its first showing: I was at school, and
talked about it the next day. This is not the kind of thing you would
normally expect teenagers to discuss, but there is no getting away from
intelligence, originality and sheer power of these six
The monologue format allows Alan Bennett's genius for capturing natural speech and realistic characters to shine. His own performance, as Graham in "A Chip in the Sugar" is a treat, as Graham obviously has no idea of his own snobbery. Patricia Routledge's upright and constantly indignant Miss Ruddock, in "A Lady of Letters", has no concept of her own isolation, and the effect gradual effect it has on her.
The subtlety and care in the script, and the gloriously tender and believable performances tug the heart-strings. Each of these six characters are so utterly real that they could be living next door: indeed, one of the recurring themes is that people do not know their neighbours anymore, and so much suffering could be alleviated if we were more community spirited.
Thora Hird is the one everyone remembers: Doris, in "A Cream Cracker Under The Settee", has suffered a fall, and gradually realises that no-one will come to her aid. Her reminiscences about happier days, when the neighbours greeted each other and there was no need to lock the door, will bring a lump to the most cynical of throats. The superb turn of phrase moves from laugh-out-loud to tear-in-the-eye and back again: the writer and his actors have us in the palm of their hands. Add to this, Stephanie Cole finding her husband's death having far reaching effects on her family, but still keeping a brave face and "Soldiering On" ("bloody psychiatrist!"); Julie Walters as a bit-part glamour girl, offered the break she's always wanted in "Her Big Chance"; and Maggie Smith, suffering in silence and finding extra-curricular activities to fill her time, as a vicar's wife whose congregation can't stand her.
One of the most influential, pivotal, groundbreaking TV series of all time, and not one to be missed. You'll be quoting the highlights for weeks afterwards. Well, fancy! There's a cream cracker under the settee! Can't remember the last time I had cream crackers! That Zulema...
Alan Bennett's writing shows us once again that there is something the English have about their language that only a very few American writers sense. I suppose its kind of like those English lawns: its only dirt and a bit of grass seed but you have to mow it for 600 years before you have it.
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.
A series of 6 monologues, by Alan Bennett ranging from 25 to 40
minutes, made for the BBC. These wonderful character sketches are very
simply done. The actors speak directly into the camera, in very basic
sets that look designed more for stage, than film. No pretense of
naturalistic reality here.
There are 5 pieces for women, all performed by some of the best actresses around; Maggie Smith, Thora Hird. Patricia Routledge, Julie Walters and Stephanie Cole. The lone piece for a male is performed by Bennett himself, who acquits himself quite admirably. I usually think of him as a writer first, actor second, but he does a terrific and touching job interpreting his work.
As in any collection of short pieces the quality of the tales is somewhat variable, but none are less than good, and a few are exquisite; heartbreaking, funny, capturing the poetry of modern life in the Bennett has proved himself so good at. It's especially wonderful to see Maggie Smith getting to play a character so subtle and understated. While she has always had tremendous range, in recent years much of what she has done has been on the broader side. So being reminded of just how powerfully quiet she can be is a treat.
A couple of the pieces hang on a last minute twist, but more of them are really about peeling away the layers of ordinary life to show the pain and confusion under the masks we all wear.
An excellent use of the intimacy of television, where lengthy close ups and simple visuals are more effective and less fatiguing than they can be in theatrical features.
Bennett is a complete and real treasure!! His writing here is just wonderful-real and grounded in reality. Everyone that has posted here (and it is so very few) have really said all there is to say. The performances in all the monologues are exceptional but worthy of special mention is Patricia Routledge in A Lady of Letters which I quote in my summary line. She also is great in A Woman of No Importance. The characters were kind of templates for her less enjoyable Hyacinth Bouquet but so so much better and much more real. Alan Bennett himself does what he might call" a good turn" in a Chip in the Sugar. Some of the best of British talent fall over themselves to do his plays Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole , Anna Massey and Thora Hird all do his writing justice and then some.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Talking Heads is one of the minor glories of television, so I was
surprised that only three IMDb readers have reviewed the series.
Actually, these three reviews are all that is needed, because anyone
reading them without having seen the series will be in no doubt about
the quality of what awaits them. However, it did occur to me that they
might not have fully captured how much fun these twelve mini-plays
Each one is a thirty-minute, face-to-camera narration by a single character; usually told in six or seven separate scenes. The overall tone is one of subtle, understated humour. It is so dead-pan that you don't laugh out loud, but the 'slow-burn' humour creeps up on you and it is only when they are over that you realise how funny some of these stories were. However, most of them have an underlying sadness and some of them are absolutely heart-breaking.
Each episode is a master-class in the 'deceptive narrative'. The characters who are relating these stories are trying to conceal what is really happening in their lives and the audience has to piece together the real story from little hints that they inadvertently drop. It is worth the effort, because most of these seemingly mundane little vignettes have unexpectedly strong plots that can often veer off in surprising directions. Trust me: much more happens in these stories than you will initially expect. Buried in these apparently drab character studies you will find madness, perversion, incest, paedophilia and serial murder.
Alan Bennett's special skill is that he gives each of these characters an uncannily accurate voice. Often they are voices from his own childhood, full of the middle-class and lower middle-class idioms of the Nineteen Fifties. This may be a slight problem for some people. You probably have to be English and at least fifty-years-old to fully appreciate the creepy accuracy of the dialect, slang and speech patterns that bring some of these characters to life.
Nonetheless, I am sure that viewers of all ages and from all countries will enjoy the clever structure, surprising twists and unexpected poignancy of these sly tales (not to mention the great performances). Even if you cannot personally verify the precision of the language you will instinctively feel that it is right on the button.
Alan Bennet is undoubtedly a serious playwright and he has some challenging things to say, but he never forgets that his first duty is to entertain.
Give him a chance and I think he will entertain you.
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