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Life on Mars (2006)
I've been looking forward to this for a few weeks now, as the trailers have set it up as the sort of slightly unusual, imaginative programming I tend to like, but which few contemporary broadcasters have the guts to produce these days, let alone put out during prime-time (albeit on a Monday!).
Most UK listings describe it as a 'Police Drama', which is I suppose the easiest box to put it in, for marketing purposes if nothing else. 'Unusual Police-cum-time travel-cum dark comedy-cum drama' might be a more accurate (if less saleable or say-able) description.
The premise of the show is intriguing; Sam Tyler, a DCI with the Manchester Police in 2006, is investigating a murderer who seems to be eluding him (and may have kidnapped his girlfriend) when he is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. He has the same name, face, and indeed job, but is now only a DC. This sets up all sorts of interesting possibilities for the writers, not the least of which is an amusing nod to the way that the police, and particularly police dramas, have changed over the years.
We're presented with a number of possible explanations for what's happened; Is he mad? Is some 'other force' driving him like Qunatum Leap's Sam Becket? Or is it just his unconscious mind mulling through the 2006 case and visualising bits of evidence whilst he lies in a coma? The show plays with these ideas by showing apparent connections between the 2006 murders Sam was investigating and similar events he encounters in 1973, snippets of what might (or might not) be the voices of doctors treating him in hospital, and by highlighting the remarkable detail of the 1973 world he is either imagining, or really living in.
There's a bit of rushing around to get all this explained in the first episode granted, but I suspect that's needed to set the thing up (unlike US shows like LOST that run to 24 episodes or so, this thing will probably have to fit itself inside 6). There's also rather too many time travel 'jokes' ("I need my mobile", "Mobile what?" etc.), which grate a bit after a while, but the transposing of an iPOD with an old 8-track in Sam's car is inspired (and provides the necessary Bowie 'Life on Mars' linkage).
So all in all a promising start to an interesting show. Expect the next few episodes to be less bizarre than the first, with an eventual build up to Episode 6 that links back to Episode 1 (if I know my UK mini-series physics!). The ultimate outcome of the plot may not be that surprising (I'm sure most people have a reasonable idea of where it's all going), but I doubt that will stop it from being an entertaining ride.
Repeat after me; Tom Jericho is not supposed to be Alan Turing...
Some mild spoilers follow...
Enigma was a film destined to upset some people. Those who didn't read the book would moan that the Brits were trying to take all the glory away from the Poles (glory and war...how terribly 19th century...), and that Turing was replaced with Jericho because Turing was gay. Those who had read the book would complain about all the layering and depth that was sliced off the plot in order to pander to a supposedly intellectually impaired audience. Both camps are of course missing the point.
The film is a fictional tale of intrigue set against a backdrop of momentous historical events. The Enigma of the title refers not only to the German code but also to several of the characters. Claire Rommily is an Enigma that Jericho fails to break until the very end of the film, Puck is an Enigma made all the more un-breakable by the fact that no-one recognises him as such. Jericho too is an Enigma, even to the audience who is privy to some of his inner thoughts, as he hides as much as he discloses and is capable of more than appearances suggest.
So the story is as much about the codes that people use with each other in everyday life as it is about military code-breaking. Which is not to say that the use of Bletchley Park as a frame for the story is arbitrary; the two kinds of code breaking are bound up in each other, and that is the art of the piece. The artfulness of the film must be accepted before any kind of criticism is undertaken.
The historical criticisms that are nevertheless levelled at Enigma seem churlish to say the least. Firstly, the Poles are an integral part of the plot, and in the book significant time is given over to their crucial part in the very existence of Bletchley. That this aspect is less apparent in the film has more to do with the limits of the medium than any British propaganda; Fasson and Grazier's role is similarly pared down to a mere line. As for Jericho as a sanitised form of Turing, such criticisms show a level of historical ignorance in the critic that is thankfully never shared by the film-makers. Turing was in a far more senior, technical position than Jericho, and in the book it is made clear that Jericho is one of Turing's students from Cambridge. Anyone wanting a film all about Turing should get hold of the excellent Breaking The Code, starring Derek Jacobi.
What is important about the history in Enigma is that it never alters anything that really happened, merely weaves it's plot within the established facts. Unlike, say, Pearl Harbour...
Of course, there are other potential problems with the film, but they rest pretty much exclusively within the purview of personal taste. It isn't a fast-paced actioner; at no point does Dougray Scott battle Tom Cruise on a pair of powerful motorbikes, but then Marmite doesn't taste of chocolate, yet I like them both the same. Some concessions to the visual nature of films are made (the re-framed ending being an obvious example), but readers of the book should either accept these changes or stop watching films altogether.
Whilst slow paced at times Enigma remains intellectually stimulating and the plot never seems to drag or become bloated. As an example of a well-made, intriguing, and, dare I say it, entertaining film, this is one for the DVD collection.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Nobody does it better
Quite simply, this is the greatest mini-series ever produced for British television. Superbly acted by a quite unfeasibly good cast, with a script that actually improves on LeCarre's original novel, each episode is so addictively watch-able that you can't help but view the whole thing in one go.
And yes Mr Haydon, that does mean I like it.