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"Boys from the Blackstuff" George's Last Ride (1982)

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An Episode Of Two Halves

Author: Theo Robertson from Isle Of Bute, Scotland
29 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw this episode a few minutes ago . Previous to this my last viewing was five years ago and previous to that 2009 viewing I saw it in the early 1990s . Watching it on BBC Four circa 2009 I was bitterly disappointed for most of the episode and found myself wondering how on earth this series gained so much critical acclaim on its initial broadcast and how the reputation remained over the following couple of decades . Everything about the episode . Everything about the episode seemed pompous , pondering and sententious along with the symbolism and politics which even in the early 1980s was probably unconvincingly idealistic and ultimately false . Then the location moved from a funeral wake to a pub then I realised why BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF is still considered a masterwork of British television

Seeing it today there is no need for to revalue my opinion . Everything I wrote in the above paragraph I stand by . For much of the episode the focus is on George Patrick Malone who spends his last days in frail health but still a legendary firebrand . So legendary in fact that he has a sitting room acting as a surgery where the proles go for advice . Similar to a Doctor's surgery but where as Doctors cure physical ills Comrade George cures every social ill known to man . I can't emphasise how over done all this is and how lacking in credibility any of this is but everything revolves around heavy handed symbolism that constantly crushes any subtlety and subtext . Look carefully ad you'll see a portrait of Marx on George's wall . George is a Christian socialist and the script can't get off its marks quick enough to point out how this bizarre , contradictory type of cultism is hijacked by religion and its mortal henchmen . You could be forgiven for switching off at this point as the script effectively screams and spits in the audience's face

Director Philip Saville directed the original GANGSTERS for Play For Today . GANGSTERS started off as a gritty hard hitting one off drama along the lines of GET CARTER , but then eventually mutated in to one of the most insane pieces of television ever produced featuring self destructive meta-fiction . Somewhat shockingly Saville had nothing to do with the final series of GANGSTERS , but here in the final third of the episode what had begun as social realist drama has now changed in to a surrealist nightmare where the repressed psychotic rage of Yosser Hughes is a normal fabric of society

And so ends one of the most acclaimed dramas in British television from 32 years ago . At the time Alan Bleasdale was under heavy pressure to do a follow up series but to his credit he resisted the temptation and what we have is five episodes of impacting human drama . The disturbing thing about the dated feel is that even in the depths of Thatcher's Britain the state still had some compassion . Nowadays all benefit claimants are branded frauds and cheats and their job searching is handled by work providers . Hundreds of thousands of people are reliant food banks the 21st Century of soup kitchens . If the past is another country 1982 was a Utopian Republic

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