|Index||4 reviews in total|
33 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
Bleak but hopeful, 21 April 2005
Author: Heligena from Cardiff, Wales, Uk
I have just finished watching this on BBC four having never read the
book by Patrick Hamilton (for which i am suitably ashamed) and knowing
little before i slumped down in the comfy armchair.
I have to say i am not a big fan of wartime stories but i found this extremely compelling. The first story was a perfect way to enter into this world, one comprised of shades of brown and unbreakable routines. The initial glamour of Jenny's world drew you to her as it did Bob, her colours lighting up the bland tones of the Midnight Bell. You could understand his growing obsession with her, with anything that spoke of something outside the mundane. She seemed to represent a more accessible version of his books, a different world to admire from afar, even though she existed right in front of him. He could immerse himself in her but never really possess her. Heartbreaking stuff.
The second story was even better, Jenny's fall from grace more of a gentle drooping than a descent. Her eyes showed it all, growing blanker and harder as those around her took advantage. And that's not to say it was all men, her friend was just as guilty of using her beauty for her own ends. Her story was incredibly bleak and i'm sure all too common in the streets of London at this time. But kudos to Zoe Tapper for giving an understated performance, making it all the more heart rending.
Finally we come to my favourite part. It was always going to be, as I am a huge fan of Sally Hawkins work. And i knew from the very beginning that Ella's was going to be the most surprising tale. I was not mistaken. Buffeted by forces she could not (or didn't have the confidence to) control she came off as a more modern and more lovable Fanny Price. Her obvious fear of intimacy and dedication to her morals made her seem almost removed from the harsh realities of the time. But throughout the hour she experienced a number of revelations that broke through the unrealities she had created around her. A fine example being that she could no longer listen to Bob through the wall, she was forced to confront him. And with each one, we saw the pain flicker in her eyes. Sally Hawkins was incredible as always and i found myself wanting to comfort Ella many times throughout the episode.
In conclusion, an excellent drama with fine central performances and suitably downtrodden cinematography. Recommended.
31 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Why I love the BBC, 24 April 2005
Author: CTerry1985 from Dorset, England
Recently I've been wondering if the BBC was losing its knack for
well-acted, insightful drama. Watching this show has re-affirmed my
trust that my license fee is being spelt well.
The mini-series follows three people in the Midnight Bell pub in the 1930s (not the 1940s as another person said. The Book was published in 1935) Bob, a waiter, Ella, a barmaid, and Jenny, a customer.
The first episode follows Bob, Jenny is followed in the second, and Ella is followed in the final piece, following Patrick Hamilton's trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels of which this is based upon.
In this modern age of fast paced, snappy action this mini-series may seem slow and bogged down by dialogue, but it takes not too long to realise the immense gravitas being drawn from all three of the actors involved.
30s London is recreated fantastically. It is a land of mundane routine and dull working class blandness, where people go about their lives wishing they could be more but never achieving it.
I found it very fascinating that Patrick Hamilton himself was infatuated with a prostitute at one stage, and therefore Bob is a mirror of him, and Jenny of her, because of this the series takes on a gritty, realistic edge. The dialogue is blunt, yet with the manner of the 1930s. There is an excellent scene in the first episode where Jenny and her friend Violet talk about proper manners, hardly what you'd expect from a pair of prostitutes.
Jenny is extremely flawed, and during the first episode you even get the feeling that she's simply not a nice person. Of course in real life, and in the book things simply aren't that simple, and the second episode exemplifies this, demonstrating exceptionally well why Jenny is the way she is.
In summary this is a fantastic piece of drama, and I will certainly be watching more of BBC 4 in the future.
10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
The love that dared not speak its name, 13 January 2009
Author: keith-moyes from United Kingdom
This series is an excellent adaptation of Hamilton's trilogy of
novellas and is a beautiful evocation of the seedier side of London in
the early Nineteen Thirties.
The three books (The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure and The Plains of Cement) were published several years apart and centre on three characters who meet in a pub: Bob, an aspiring novelist, Jenny, a prostitute on whom he squanders his meagre savings, and Ella, who is in love with Bob while being pursued by an ageing suitor.
The story is essentially told three times, each from a different perspective, and this production was originally broadcast as three separate plays. However, the DVD offers the alternative of viewing it as a single narrative and this is the option I would recommend.
It is thoroughly engrossing, but there can be no pretence that it makes for easy viewing. It is unremittingly bleak and at the end there is only the faintest hint of hope for any of the characters.
The great merit of the books was their accuracy as reportage and this is fully realised in this production. It is filmed in a washed-out near monochrome and the production design is a marvel of authenticity achieved on a tiny budget. The playing (especially by the leads, Bryan Dick, Zoe Tapper and Sally Hawkins) is uniformly good. Their performances seem completely in keeping with the time and place without mimicking the acting style of the era.
For me, this series doesn't fully capture the flavour of the books, but that is not necessarily a criticism.
The Midnight Bell, in particular, was highly autobiographical, being closely based on Hamilton's own relationship with a prostitute, Lily. This book, and The Siege of Pleasure, have an obsessive, confessional quality that is largely missing here.
In The Midnight Bell we don't get the same sense of just how self-willed Bob's disastrous relationship with Jenny really is. In the book, Jenny is even less calculating than she appears here. She never pretends to have any affection for Bob and makes only the faintest attempt to get her hands on his savings. She is simply bemused when he keeps popping up to shower money on her. Bob understands this but cannot help himself. Ultimately, his behaviour is much more consciously self-destructive than in this production.
Similarly, we get a much weaker sense of the importance of alcohol in the novel. Bob's increased drinking is shown but not emphasised.
With hindsight, we can see that The Midnight Bell is not merely documenting Hamilton's relationship with Lily, but also the origins of his much more lasting relationship with alcohol. Bob is not an alcoholic (Hamilton probably wasn't, at that stage) but the warning signs are there.
The role of alcohol becomes much clearer in the second book, The Siege of Pleasure. Its centrepiece is a lengthy passage depicting with meticulous accuracy and loving detail the process of Jenny getting drunk for the first time - and how much she enjoys it. Here, we see this happening but cannot share the effect it is having on Jenny. As a result we lose the subtext of the book. Objectively, it is showing how Jenny's seduction is the first step on her road to prostitution, but we sense that it is drink that is the real cause of her fall, even if Hamilton is not explicit about it.
In these books, alcohol is the love that dared not speak its name.
From this perspective, Bob and Jenny are not separate characters, with their own personal destinies, so much as aspects of Hamilton. This makes for an uncomfortable read. Rather than being fiction, the books feel like extracts from his private diary, recording his own lacerating self-reproaches, so the reader feels like a voyeur. Moreover, there is something masochistic about Hamilton's wallowing in ruin and degradation. It is only in The Plains of Cement that he rises above this neurotic self-absorption and achieves a degree of objectivity that redeems the whole trilogy.
No adaptation of Hamilton, however faithful it tries to be, can adopt his perspective. Inevitably, it will interpret the stories, rather than reproduce them. But this is no bad thing. We lose some of the immediacy that we get from the sense humiliation and self-loathing that infuse the books (and re-emerges even more strongly in The West Pier and Hangover Square) but in downplaying their more obsessive aspect it objectifies and generalises the issues that he raises.
Cut loose from Hamilton's very personal preoccupations, the characters now have autonomous lives of their own and we can even believe that there might be some hope for them. Their futures may not be not very promising, but they are no longer completely trapped by the fatalism of Hamilton's self-castigating nightmare.
At the same time, stripping away the most obsessive elements of the books gives us an unobstructed view of the world he has so faithfully documented and it proves to be both convincing and compelling. If Art is about finding the universal in the particular then this drama is arguably more successful than the books on which it is based. It certainly feels like a more balanced piece of work.
This version of 20,000 Streets Under the Sky may not have the same power as Hamilton's books, but it is mesmerising in its own right. At times it is hard to watch, but it is still well worth spending three hours of your time on it.
PS: For a more detailed account of the merits of this production read the three reviews above.
13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
A Bittersweet Period Artifact With Resonances for Today, 13 February 2006
Author: noralee from Queens, NY
"20,000 Streets Under the Sky" is a television adaptation of Patrick
Hamilton's London trilogy of the 1930's, providing Americans with
exposure to an author, at his centenary, and period, classes and
British characters we haven't seen on British exports before.
These are folks hanging on to not quite lower middle class, shopkeeper-level, respectability with their fingernails or elbows, one temptation or bad choice away from sliding into impoverishment or disgrace.
The period costumes, almost black and white production design, slang and non-posh accents to indicate a variety of backgrounds were marvelous. The casting was a terrific selection of talented character actors who were completely believable as mixed-motive people.
Part 1 is the story of Bob, the erstwhile writer and semi-autobiographical stand-in, based on "The Midnight Bell", also the name of the pub where the three naïve young people intersect. As played by Bryan Dick, Bob seems like a younger and handsomer version of the old professor obsessed with Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel)" in the same period, as he is an unabashed, unrealistic romantic. Bob is unexpectedly, and not well-explained, well-educated, immersing himself in writing about the fall of the Roman Empire, while his fantasies run to popular cinema.
Part 2 is the story of Jenny the prostitute (a sprightly Jean Harlow-like Zoë Tapper), based on "The Siege of Pleasure." This is not quite raw Theodore Dreiser or Stephen Crane territory in presenting how a fallen woman in the big city got there but comes close. We see her what would seem like quite stupidly giving in to temptations if there weren't so many films now on young women from Eastern Europe getting trapped in identical snares today, but which are a bit overplayed here in terms of alcohol and the very frankly single-minded intentions of despicable and not particularly charismatic or sexy men who practically twirl their mustaches. It seemed odd that we didn't discover some hidden illegitimate child to explain her missed assignations, disappearances and manipulative need of cash. The stereotypes finally fell away as we saw her hard-earned cynicism when she faces the man who helped lead her astray, as she is now sadly beyond salvation.
Part 3 is the story of Ella, the bar maid, based on the novel "The Plains of Cement." This was the most effective, as well as the most touchingly bittersweet story, concluding in surprising directions and the characters seemed less types and more real people. Sally Hawkins well conveyed a young woman caught between an array of emotions and expectations at home, work and romance that confuse her.
Not having read the novels (let alone even heard of the author until seeing this adaptation) I presumed it was the source material that had a lot of stereotypes, if this was faithful, but this trilogy may have helped create the clichés in the first place. But I was finally taken by how each character did not go off into soap opera directions.
The time frame of when each character intersected at crucial points in their lives wasn't always 100% clear until the conclusion, as no specific points of reference are provided amidst the flashbacks.
I viewed this on BBC America over three hours with commercials, so I am not sure if there were any cuts from the original production.
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