In the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s, the UK was blessed with audacious, courageous commissioning editors, visionary directors and dedicated producers who helped, with a cast of thousands, to create bold, groundbreaking one-off dramas within strands such as Play for Today, The Wednesday Play and Half Hour Stories. Then Thatcher said there was no such thing as society and then, well, anything that wasn’t directly wealth-creating was no longer a priority, repertory theatre finally collapsed and the arts were deemed a luxury, or worse, dangerously prejudicial to the political settlement. Give a hand for the bland, ladies and gents…
Jimmy McGovern was one of those who bucked the trend, giving us rich and compelling dramas such as Cracker, The Street, Hillsborough and Sunday. In 2009, he created – but did not write for – a new strand of standalone 45-minute dramas for BBC daytime audiences: Moving On. Set principally in the English North-West, these tales of fractures in human relationships, and how we deal with them, ran in five-episode seasons over Monday to Friday of one week on BBC1. Simply Media have just release the fourth season – aired in 2013 – on DVD.
McGovern’s name should be enough to guarantee watchability, but unfortunately, while there are many wonderful moments brought to us by some of our most talented TV actors, the season as a whole is patchy and beset by scripts that are frequently either predictable or unable to make the viewer care.
The season opens with The Shrine, where Matthew Kelly and Barbara Flynn give performances of elegant (if not always dignified) frustration as an unofficial memorial to the victim of a car crash outside their house stymies their attempts to sell up. Kelly and Flynn are always bankable stars and give of their best, against the sometimes-moving, sometimes-two-dimensional performance of Sally Carman’s grieving widow. Karen Brown’s script begs for bags of empathy, but rather makes one ashamed to have been left a little cold by it, and a dead man’s life feels cheapened by the gaudy and prurient way in which it has been handled.
Sally Carman as Sarah in ‘The Shrine’
The other two offerings on Disc 1 – Visiting Order and Friends Like These are well-meaning but unfulfilling offerings.
The former deals with the strain placed on a Norwegian single mother (Marian Saastad Ottesen) living in England as she tries to keep up with parental responsibilities and a new boyfriend (Downton’s own Rob James-Collier) while also keeping tabs on the moods of her (extravagantly ‘meh’) drug-trafficker father, who is residing nearby at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. One struggles to care about any of it.
Friends Like These pits Gillian Kearney’s broke, bibulous single mother Danielle against Natasha Little’s Sonia – an affluent mother to a new pupil in Danielle’s daughter’s class. Sonia befriends Danielle, but what starts out as a warm and generous friendship turns into something altogether more sinister… and yet not sinister enough to make one feel genuinely worried or, for that matter, in any way invested.
Disc 2 brought us Blood Ties, directed by Robert Glenister and starring Paul McGann and Wycliffe’s own Jack Shepherd as a middle-aged son tries to cope with his elderly father’s failing health and intransigence and the impact that a nasty car accident brings to bear on their lives. With a performance of nuanced infuriation from Jennifer Hennessy as McGann’s wife as well as McGann and Shepherd’s own sterling work, this was by far the most accomplished and high-stakes piece in the series, even with some rather creaky moments in the script.
Finally, we had That’s Amore, with Elliot Hope’s script brought to life under the direction of Johnny Vegas, starring Jason Manford, Rebekah Staton and a host of vaguely familiar faces in support, notably Irish actor Patrick McDonnell (Owen McLove from Father Ted). Manford and Staton play a couple who are getting divorced but, for financial reasons, continue to live in the same house. Comedy and irritation ensue. Mostly irritation. The cast give their all, but they are left with too much material for half an hour and not enough for 45 minutes and so, by the ambiguous end, one doesn’t quite know whether one is suffering from ennui or diabetes.
As with my earlier review for Simply Media’s distribution of The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, this is a no-frills production, with no extras and very basic menus. It is a series which wants to be Play for Today, but is very conscious that it’s broadcast slot means it gets aired to a Bargain Hunt audience. Aspirations and corporate expectations collide, and the result is a few flashes of greatness caught up in a stereotypical Grim Up North fog. Thank Blood Ties for the third mark out of five.
Dir: Noreen Kershaw, Pauline Harris, Robert Glenister, Johnny Vegas
Scr: Karen Brown, Collette Kane, Shaun Duggan, Arthur Ellison, Elliot Hope
Prd: Colin McKeown, Donna Molloy
Cast: Matthew Kelly, Barbara Flynn, Steve Evets, Neil Bell, Marian Saastad Ottesen, Rob James-Collier, Bjarne Henriksen, Morag Siller, Gillian Kearney, Natasha Little, Rachel Leskovac, Paul McGann, Jack Shepherd, Jennifer Hennessy, Rob Jarvis, Jason Manford, Rebekah Staton, Jack Deam, Patrick McDonnell
Running Time: 210 mins over two discs
Moving On – Series Four is on release for home entertainment on DVD now