Vivid Dramatization of Tony Hancock's Tragic Decline and Fall
Tony Hancock's fall from grace during the Sixties has been well documented. From the heights of HANCOCK in 1961, including such classics as "The Blood Donor," he made two indifferent films (THE REBEL and THE PUNCH AND JUDY MAN), abandoned his regular script- writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, moved from the BBC to ITV, made a series of abortive comebacks on stage and television, and eventually committed suicide at the age of forty-four in Australia.
Throughout that period he had become a hopeless alcoholic, repeatedly going on and falling off the wagon, and in the process being abandoned by two wives, Cicely and Freddie. In the end he was almost completely self-destructive in his fruitless search for more "truthful" forms of comedy.
William Humble's script chronicles this process of decline in faithful fashion. As portrayed (quite uncannily brilliantly) by Alfred Molina, Hancock comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable person blessed with phenomenal talent but pathologically unable to relate to those around him. Even his closest friends such as John le Mesurier (portrayed rather inaccurately by Malcolm Sinclair) can do little or nothing to help him. It was as if Hancock had a mental self-destruct mechanism inside him; dissatisfied with his almost continual run of success from the mid-Fifties until the early Sixties, he was always looking for the unreachable.
Tony Smith's SCREEN ONE production vividly represents the televisual and cinematic worlds of the time, especially in Britain. Most of the productions were relentlessly small-scale, appealing to local audiences (or audiences with some British blood in them); they were hardly likely to exert transatlantic appeal. Hancock was well aware of such limitations, but possessed neither the personality nor the staying-power to build himself a reputation in America. Cast as the third lead in a Disney production as an aging actor, he was summarily replaced during filming, on account of being perceived as being an alcoholic and proving "difficult" on set. As portrayed in this film, there was a considerable amount of truth in both charges: Hancock behaved rather like a spoiled child, unaware (or perhaps unwilling to acknowledge) that he was working in a foreign country.
The production ends with Hancock, increasingly isolated and bereft of hope, answering questions in desultory fashion from the Australian press, on arrival for his last (and unfinished) television series in 1968. As he burbles on about future plans, including pantomime, summer seasons and (most ludicrously) a version of KING LEAR, we understand just how desperate he had become; well aware of his shortcomings, he could see no other course but to end his life.
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