Thursday, November 22, 2007

Extraordinary Joe

The past five or six weeks have been pretty crappy all told – the daily grind grinding me down. Getting my bearings at this damnable company, it didn’t take long to figure that the head of department was a total control freak, her useless assistant simply wasn’t up to her job and took it out on the staff, and neither had any fucking clue. Lovely.

Add to that a recent bout of food poisoning that was so violent in its evacuation that I pulled the muscles in my lower back, and the computer at home deciding it wasn’t happy with a range of new fonts and played silly buggers to such an extent that it compromised the work I was mean to be doing.

In the scheme of things they’re pretty trivial things really, but they succeed in doing was help contribute to the growing malaise. So I’ve looked for the little things to try and help bring the balance up: Sainsbury’s Sicilian lemonade, re-reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, watching Clarkson, The Hamster and Captain Slow goof around on Top Gear.

The BBC also helped out some more by screening the latest dramas from Stephen Poliakoff: the triptych, Joe’s Palace, A Real Summer and Capturing Mary. Having caught the first two the nights they were broadcast, I missed the third and only just bought the DVD, just in case you’re wondering why I’m mentioning them so long after their transmission dates.

Poliakoff’s work certainly divides audiences. Judging from the vitriol spewed across the television pages of the broadsheets leading up to the dramas’ broadcasts and directly after, it’s obvious which camp the TV critics and various “media commentators” fall into. Well, fuck them. If I’m in the minority for loving Poliakoff’s work, so be it.

Most critics zeroed in on the fact that the dramas reused the same themes as his earlier works. Back at the one-day Television Scriptwriting Workshop held at De Montfort University, Keynote Speaker Tony Marchant reminded the assembled audience that Dennis Potter one remarked that writers have only two stories or themes that they constantly rework, fixating on them perhaps in much the same way that Monet was driven to paint his series of grainstacks, poplars and the façade of Rouen Cathedral, in the 1890s.

Since 1999’s Shooting the Past, Poliakoff has concentrated on his obsessions with the past, with families and the secrets that lie therein, and the distance family members can put between themselves – a change from the earlier Close My Eyes, which showed the perils of them getting too close. Just as Friends and Crocodiles and Gideon’s Daughter had the character Sneath, played by Robert Lindsay, as a linking device, Joe’s Palace and Capturing Mary both centre on an empty, elegant house and two characters frozen by the past, and past events, left to decide whether there was a reason why their lives and careers stalled or whether it was merely an excuse they were using to exist in a perpetual limbo.

The stunning performances by Michael Gambon as the reclusive billionaire Elliot Graham, fearful that the fortune his father had amassed was tainted, and Maggie Smith as Mary Gilbert, the young writer whose talent slips away from her, were a given. Then there was Danny Lee Wynter, as Joe, the young doorman on the now empty house who, without an agenda of his own, is the one person both characters can open up to, Ruth Wilson as the young Mary – who also appears in A Real Summer - and David Walliams.

I’ve never been a particular fan of Walliams. Little Britain, for instance, is something I can easily do without. But he did turn up a while back, albeit briefly, in an episode of Waking the Dead playing some shady Whitehall-type twonk. His darkly sinister turn as the charming and manipulative Greville White, the keeper of secrets, was quite remarkable.

Love him or loathe him, at a time when mainstream television drama is so utterly fucking dull and predictable, unique voices like Poliakoff’s are what we desperately need. The wonderful thing about Poliakoff is the control that he has over his creations. Both Joe’s Palace and Capturing Mary were co-productions between the BBC and HBO, with the US premium cable channel onboard on the understanding that there would be no interference allowed.

In 1999, the year that Poliakoff stood firm against the BBC executives that wanted Shooting the Past trimmed - a drama that, we should remember, audaciously made its audience repeatedly sit and stare at a succession of still images - we lost one of the greatest filmmakers when Stanley Kubrick passed away in his sleep. Anyone looking for his successor, and looking to cinema to provide the answer, may have been looking in the wrong medium.


At 12:13 pm, Blogger potdoll said...

I didn't realise you've had food poisoning! Hope you're much better now.

Are you going to ditch the job then?


At 11:25 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I'm still trying to find out when I'm contracted to. I'll have to tell you about this place over another coffee because it's the most bonkers place.

At 12:01 am, Blogger potdoll said...

yes you will. look forward to it!

At 2:26 am, Blogger said...

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At 4:39 pm, Blogger Lee said...

I've just been introduced to Jack Reacher, through One Shot. What a lunatic. The book should have been total trash, but instead it was AWE!SOME!

Tripwire next, then The Hard Way (3 for 2 in WH Smiths. Bargain; though no doubt Reacher would pity this rich city fool for buying any book he could read for free at a library).

At 6:54 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Lee, The Visitor was the first book I read after one of the animation directors recommended it years ago.

Actually, I think One Shot is the weakest book. The Hard Way is one of the best, along with The Enemy.

Strangely these aren't the kind of books I would have picked off the bookshop shelf because the series did look to be a sort of cheap dime store pulp fictions.

What turns them around is that Lee Child is a brilliant writer and the stories are real page turners.

One thing I remember about One Shot, even though not liking it as much as the others, is that I started reading it on a hot Friday night - obviously a few summers back - before going to sleep. Okay, it was one of those nights where the oppressive heat made it difficult to sleep, but I didn't turn off the bedside lamp until I had turned the last page.

By that time the birds were chirruping and the sky was getting light.


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