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Play for Today: Double Dare (1976)
Potter with some self-discipline
I saw this a few years ago on BBC4 (apparently only the second time it has been broadcast in the UK) and was very impressed. Dennis Potter wrote this at about the same time as "Brimstone and Treacle", but this has a much clearer structure and a more obvious point than "Brimstone".
Just about all Potter's plays were versions of incidents in his own life, this one even more than most. And, amusingly, the film makes it perfectly clear that we (the viewers) are supposed to draw some conclusions from this. (I especially like the scene when the actress telephones a friend to say "This writer gives me the creeps, I think he's going off his head".) For all his faults, Potter was very self-aware, even though he liked to play games with viewers and interviewers.
Unlike most of Potter's plays, "Double Dare" ends with a clear message - that the male writer's fantasies about women could have appalling consequences if they spilt over into the real world. However, I like even more Kika Markham's suggestion of an extension to that scene: the woman could get up from the bed and say "Wait a minute - you can't do that to me !" This film could very well be remade today - I wish someone would.
Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976)
The previous long-winded review completely misses the point about this series.
Andrea Newman first wrote this story as a novel in the early Seventies, and she has written many other novels and TV series on the same theme - that of the "generation gap" being manipulated by sexually active teenagers. The author is not writing from a "male" or "conservative" point of view, she has simply observed a lot of families and individuals under stress and accurately described a lot of the social neuroses of the Seventies,
(As a matter of fact, I heard Andrea Newman on the radio a few years ago saying that she also wanted to mirror the classic Greek plays such as Oedipus, which would explain some of the more lurid activities in her stories - men jumping into bed with their mothers-in-law, etc.) Certainly the sexual content (without actual nudity) in this series went well beyond anything seen on British TV before this point, but the sex scenes are realistic, not absurd fantasies. Maybe this is why the series made such a huge impact on the viewers. To even hint at incestuous feelings makes most viewers feel uncomfortable, and this had never been implied on TV before (and, come to think of it, few 21st century dramas would dare do this now).
I was very impressed by the acting in this series; this was made back in the days when most TV drama resembled stage plays performed in front of video cameras, and most of the cast are very skilled theatre actors. An exception is James Aubrey, whose "American" accent is hopeless - shouldn't the director have told him not to bother?
The overall message of the series - or at least the message that I perceived - seems to be that sex makes everyone unhappy. Which is rather surprising for the Seventies, but then good writers are people who don't just copy their contemporaries, but have the guts to say what they really think.
Making Waves (2004)
Say again ?
I remember a BBC series back in the Seventies called "Warship", and despite being made on a low budget and suffering from some theatrical over-acting, the stories were pretty gripping. You really got a sense of what serving on board a warship must be like.
So when I tuned in for "Making Waves" I was hoping for similar excitement - but what a disappointment. The first problem was that I could hardly understand what the characters were saying. Most of them had very strong geordie, scots or scouse accents, and while this may well be true-to-life it didn't aid communication with anyone not born in those parts. Added to this was a lot of music thumping away while people were talking. And if you can't understand what characters are saying, how can you care what happens to them? I got the distinct impression that the first episode was in fact two episodes that had been knitted together, so frantic and ill-explained was the action. I simply couldn't follow what the characters were doing or why, or why anything happened.
The series was performing so poorly for ITV that it was yanked after three episodes.
The Nightmare Man (1981)
Oh dear. Some of the best talent in British TV made this serial, and so I can only assume that they were working under incredible time pressure, and had to settle for first takes of many scenes.
There ARE some frightening scenes in this Highland mystery (mostly when the "monster" attacks and we see it from his point of view), but I'm afraid that I found most of the story unintentionally funny ! Such as the moment when the hero discovers a dismembered corpse on a golf course: Oh look, there's a hand ... oh, and there's another hand over there ... hmm this is a bit puzzling ...
For many years fans of British cult TV shows campaigned to have this serial released on VHS or DVD, but the BBC always said no. Now I think I understand why !
Ferry Cross the Mersey (1964)
A rip-off, but a pretty good one
This must have been made very soon after the smash success of the Beatles film "A hard day's night", and it is virtually a carbon copy. In the mid-Sixties most of the beat groups (especially those managed by Brian Epstein) were prodded into making films, of varying quality.
This one starts off very well, with some documentary footage of Liverpool and its people, emphasising the poverty of the place, then followed by what looks like genuine footage taken inside the legendary Cavern club, with the band performing in the darkness and heat.
Unfortunately, when the film decides that it wants to tell a STORY, things slide rapidly downhill. It all becomes silly and unfunny, though I've got to say that the actress playing Gerry's blonde girlfriend is an absolute knockout - whatever happened to her ??? A highlight is seeing the band on the famous ferry, performing their best-known song, and it really takes you (well, it took ME) to Liverpool in the Sixties, giving a poignant reminder that for just a few years, the 'pool really did seem like the happiest place in Britain.
I wonder why this film has never officially resurfaced? Legal hassles resulting from the breaking-up of Brian Epstein's business empire?
The Omega Factor (1979)
Made in a frantic hurry?
I bought this after seeing rave reviews on the Net, but frankly I found it a disappointment, even allowing for the fact that it is a Seventies BBC production. Even when compared with other BBC video-taped productions of the time, such as Doctor Who and Survivors, this is terribly slow and unconvincing. The actors are obviously doing their best with the lines they have been given, but honestly their faces display the boredom and dissatisfaction that I experienced when watching this ! I think the problem is with the terribly disjointed scripts. As the DVD booklet relates, this series was conceived and rushed into production with the kind of speed that didn't allow for enough thought to be put into what would nowadays be described as a story "arc". Someone seems to have made the conscious decision that each episode would end, not with a spectacularly frightening event (of which there are many in this series) but with a dull, inconclusive talky scene that makes a half-hearted attempt to persuade us to tune in next week. I felt sorry for actors who were required, week after week, to be demon-possessed or something, yet who had to turn up for the next scene apparently completely unaffected by their experiences ! And could no-one think of a way to end the whole saga? It just peters out ...
It's happening right now
I don't have a great deal to add to the comments of those who have already praised this serial - it is highly perceptive and prophetic. If you live in down-town Los Angeles, and even more so Bagdad, you will recognise the social breakdown and alienation. As to the causes ... I expect some who watch this superb (though slightly hammily acted) story will interpret it as an attack on religion, but this is an oversimplification. It seems to me that Nigel Kneale is warning about the religious cults that ensnare youngsters, not mainstream religions. You recall that he put into the story an approximation of a Jewish Passover meal (please forgive me if I got the name wrong), where we saw three generations of people sitting down together in peace. The religious ritual helped them to find calm and a sense of purpose. In contrast, the cult of the Planet People encouraged them to separate themselves off from anyone who was older than them, and to lose interest in this life altogether. Some people have criticised the end of the story as unsatisfactory - but I actually prefer ambiguous endings. Why should a story explain everything? Aren't the best stories often those that leave you intrigued and desperately hoping for more?
Although this story was obviously conceived with the hippy movement in mind, by the time it was shown on British TV, the punk movement had burst into society, and the images (and especially the childish song) struck a definite chord with British teenagers. I was in the first year of secondary school at the time, and I definitely remember a lot of my contemporaries being obsessed with the nihilistic and violent events in this serial. As always, Nigel Kneale was completely in tune with the times.
The Sandwich Man (1966)
Who is the intended audience?
I enjoyed this film very much - in a simple-minded sort of way. It's a very strange mixture of different types of comedy, in fact you could guess that the "script", such as it is, was written to fit whichever film and TV actors Micheal Bentine could persuade to do turns for him.
There are some longeurs, especially a sequence about a heavy-handed motorcycle cop, but never mind because a few minutes later another famous face pops up to amuse us. My favourite characters were the Sikh jazz musicians ("De Sihkers" - groan !) and Norman Wisdom's Irish priest, who tries to instruct a group of boys about gymnastics. Half the fun is in realising that in today's politically correct world, characters like these would never reach the screen - more's the pity. Incidentally, I can imagine Spike Milligan coming up with both the above stereotypes, so maybe the falling out between him and Bentine was more to do with personalities than material.
This film seems to have been made entirely on location around London (and I spotted Tolworth Tower in the escapologist sequence, which is near where I grew up), and you can tell it was made in a great hurry with very little money.
But who was the intended audience? Surely in 1966, at a time when adult cinema-goers were getting used to more sophisticated and subversive films, this one couldn't have held much appeal. In fact its resemblance to the Children's Film Foundation shorts (also funded by the Rank organisation) makes me think that this was intended to be shown at "Saturday morning picture shows" for kids. There is nothing here that a child couldn't understand (though I'm not so sure about the comment,"He's buying me a black jacket, not a red one ! He's kinky, not a communist!"). And what on earth are those wrestlers at the very end all about ???
This film is now available on DVD, curiously in 4:3 picture ratio - is this the only print available ? and it's 90 minutes of innocent fun. If you're still not sure what sort of comedy it is, think:
The Beatles' film "Help". The TV silent classic "The Plank". "Some mothers do 'ave 'em"
Love Soup (2005)
You have to appreciate effort, BUT ...
... why watch a TV drama (billed as a comedy) in which none of the characters are likable or even interesting people ? I can sort of see what the writer David Renwick was trying to achieve: the misdirections and bad-taste surprises that he put into "One foot in the grave", etc. I admit that the script made a bit more of an effort than most on British TV at the moment. But really ... who cares about these people ? They are cold bores.
Another poster mentioned the scene in which the woman sits down to watch a video of herself and her deceased ex-boyfriend shagging. That was the moment when I switched OFF this programme, never to return.
P.S. It's interesting to note that the posters who didn't like this series are all British, whereas those who praise it are mostly in other countries. This reflects the fact that when the BBC broadcast this series it was ignored by viewers and sank like a stone.
P.P.S. Good news for those who liked it ! There will be a second series in Autumn 2007 - though without the male lead. It sounds like the BBC have decided to turn it into a more conventional 30 minute sitcom.
Sweeney 2 (1978)
Exciting but muddled
This is one of my favourite action films, but I have to admit that it is very disjointed, and I was only able to follow the story after my second viewing of the DVD. I dunno, maybe film-goers back in the Seventies were more attentive or intelligent?! If not, then I can imagine most of them leaving the cinema scratching their heads.
Troy Kennedy Martin who wrote many scripts for the TV series seemed to delight in this "elliptical" style of storytelling. I'm sure we've all played the game of imagining how to re-edit a movie to make it better -and in this case I would have put the villains' detailed description of their motives at the beginning as a prologue, rather than at the end when they are all dead ! This might be less sophisticated, but it would also help to maintain interest in the story, which is after all the point of the exercise ! But I come to praise this film, not to bury it. The climax is exciting but not really horrifying - never has blood looked more like red paint. Best to savour the action sequences and fast-forward through the comedy bits.
Sword of Honour (2001)
TV intended to make you think - almost unheard of nowadays
Like almost all of Waugh's novels, this is a lightly fictionalised version of incidents in his own life. Apart from the early one's, they were intended to advocate the austere and serious form of Catholicism that Waugh had converted to. But what makes him such a compelling storyteller is that he mixed comedy (light as well as grotesque) with the serious points, so that one never knows quite how a story will turn out. Waugh's life alternated between melancholy and farce - and that is how his fiction comes across as well. Maybe that's why when I read his novels and see the adaptations, I find myself nodding in agreement. Yes, that is what life is like ! I thought this version of Sword of Honour very good, but oddly structured. It started as three novels, so I would have thought it would make most sense as three segments, broadcast weekly. Instead we have two long "movies", which to the casual viewers must seem a bit jumbled.
There are some superb acting performances here, though I found Daniel Craig as the hero a bit blank. Perhaps that is because, like Charles Ryder in Brideshead, the story is not really about him but about the people he meets and remembers in extraordinary circumstances. Previous reviewers have said that his wife Virginia comes across as very silly and unlikeable, but I disagree. I thought the actress (Megan Dodds - the end credits were so small that I couldn't read her name so I had to look on this site !) gave a very subtle and sophisticated performance. Really she is a woman who has never needed to think seriously about anything before, but the war experience forces her to. She becomes a Catholic - I think for Waugh this is one of the most important parts of the story.
This is a worthy successor to the celebrated TV version of Brideshead Revisited, though I wanted it to go on longer ! Unlike Brideshead (which was stretched out to an absurd 13 hours), this trilogy of stories could have gone on much longer, and I still would have been absorbed.