I approached the BBC1’s adaptation of JB Priestley’s haunting drama An Inspector Calls with some trepidation. It is well trodden territory for TV and radio producers and the text studied by pretty much every schoolchild in Britain.
However, the assured performances of Ken Stott, Miranda Richardson and David Thewlis soon had me hooked. It’s so long since I have read the play that I couldn’t make any comment upon accuracy, which I suspect was a blessing.
All the twists and turns were there and the clever clues that make Priestley’s work a proper detective mystery. But what struck me most was the unnerving aptness of the story’s message. Priestley’s play, set in 1912, on the eve of the apocalyptic First World War, is an allegorical tale of the risks we run when we ignore our responsibility to others.
The Birling family are confronted with their own failings in respect to their treatment of a poor young woman, Eva Smith. The unpleasant realities of her predicaments are transported into the Birling’s comfortable drawing room by way of the mysterious and all-knowing Inspector Goole.
Thankfully, the production is subtle and doesn’t lay on the spookiness with a trowel. The real suspense and chills are caused by the powerful script itself. But what really lingers in the mind, long after the Inspector has gone, is the striking modern parallels.
In recent weeks, we have found the humanitarian crises of the wider world invading our own parlours. This production certainly made me consider how well I would fare if my conscience were to call uninvited.
The play is a classic, largely because the story is still relevant today.
The mark of a truly great piece of detective fiction.
On the whole, I’m enjoying the BBC1 series The Big Painting Challenge. There are some excellent tips in these programmes for beginners wanting to attempt the different styles and disciplines of painting. However, viewing this competition has become something of a pantomime in our house in recent weeks. My children find the unnecessary harshness of the two expert judges to be hilarious. Especially as they seem to thoroughly detest the pictures that we all like the best. Obviously, we don’t really understand ‘serious’ art as they do.
But yesterday’s programme, falling as it did on International Women’s Day, was a little jarring. The female contestants, all bar one particularly feisty, more mature lady, have positively wilted under the strict tutelage of the judges. The men, on the other hand, are thriving on the tough feedback, ignoring what they think is unhelpful and soaking up the useful stuff.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of making generalisations about the way in which men and women operate. I happen to believe that our similarities far outweigh our differences. However, having worked as a teacher for over a decade, I can confidently assert that girls thrive under more gentle, constructive guidance. If your criticism is too sharp or not focussed enough then a female student will lose confidence in what they can do well and you can easily find them dropping behind even further.
‘Man up’, I imagine some viewers might say. It’s a competition and if you can’t take the heat, it’s the right thing for you to be eliminated. Well, there is some validity in that. But the contestants are learning from one week to the next and undoubtedly it will be the one who learns the most who comes out victorious. So perhaps the judges should vary their teaching style a little in order to create a level playing field – it’s only some paintings, not open heart surgery!
Perhaps the approach is deliberate, to encourage more male winners of these competitions. Although somehow, I don’t think the tone of the criticism is that conscious. But I do believe it teaches us some interesting lessons about how women operate in the workplace and the classroom. If you want to get the best of us, then make your criticism constructive and be sure to praise those elements we are getting right. After all, if you do get the best out of women, believe it or not, they can be a really tremendous asset.
You’ve got to love Silent Witness. Back for it’s eighteenth series and still coming up with strong storylines. This BBC drama has lost its way on occasion, notably in series fifteen and sixteen, when the format was tiring and the writers made up for this with increasingly ludicrous and gory plots. With the arrival of David Caves, as fellow pathologist Jack Hodgson, the programme has reinvigorated itself. What is particularly of note, is the great relationship between the character of Jack and scientist Clarissa Mullary, played by the brilliant Liz Carr. Carr is a stand-up comedian and a campaigner for disabled rights, she is also the only physically disabled actress starring in a prime time British drama. It doesn’t really need to be said that we obviously need more. I’ve always liked the fact that the main actors in this programme always get equal billing and firstly Amanda Burton and now Emilia Fox, are undoubtedly the stars of the show.
This week’s two-parter I particularly enjoyed. It immediately reminded me of Barbara Vine at her very best, even down to the setting of the London Underground, including the focus on a west London Tube stop. The story was reminiscent of a combination of ‘Grasshopper’ and ‘The House of Stairs’, focussing as it did on a pair of young, lost souls who find solace in one another. Only later do we discover that one is using the vulnerability of the other to manipulate them into carrying out their murderous bidding. There was a very atmospheric section at Mornington Crescent, where Nikki fears she is being followed through the empty tunnels, it immediately put me in mind of a similar sequence from the early eighties horror classic, ‘An American Werewolf in London’ which also took great advantage of the inherent spookiness of the London Underground system.
There was also an interesting sub-plot involving a young policeman trying to piece together the events of his father’s death twenty years earlier, only to discover a secret he should never have attempted to uncover.
Unfortunately, this series is running up against Broadchurch on a Monday night, but it is certainly worth setting the recorder for or catching up with on iPlayer. The writing is always interesting and original and the two hour format means it is faster paced than many of its rivals. Silent Witness continues to live on…
The Haunting of Radcliffe House is a feature length supernatural thriller that you could easily have missed, tucked away as it was at 9.35pm on Channel 5 last night. For those who enjoy a good haunted house mystery on a cold mid-winter’s night, it is definitely worth a look. Starring the excellent Olivia Williams and one-time Hollywood star Matthew Modine the story revolves around a family’s move to a derelict mansion on the Yorkshire moors, where the wife’s job is to oversee the property’s restoration for her American employer. Tensions between husband and wife are apparent almost immediately, as is the mounting sense of foreboding which builds when the secrets of the labyrinthine country house begin to reveal themselves.
The tale is fast-paced, full of creepy vignettes and with a perfectly menacing performance by Modine. There are undeniably some horror cliches dotted about in this drama; with bricked up doorways and disconnected telephones ringing in the dead of night but enough original little details in the script to make the viewer overlook them.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining watch, with atmospheric direction and plenty of genuine chills.