these older reviews from The London Times are thanks to the detective
work of Erica
was immediately followed on ITV by a new version of Lorna Doone,
in which Clive Owen (a sort of Chancer in homespun) made a stolid
John Ridd to the Lorna of Polly Walker, who came as fresh to the
screen as Annabelle Apsion did three nights later. Matthew Jacobs's
adaptation kept the dialogue minimal, and it pulled off a vital
television trick by engaging adults as well as the children it was
fashioned for. Jacobs was helped by the director of photography,
Paul Wheeler, who shot the story against irresistibly menacing and
beautiful backdrops, and by the designer, Caroline Hanania, who
understood that 17th-century costume is a relatively untapped source,
even in an industry which so enjoys making a meal of costume drama.
TIME AT THE TIC TOC; YOUR OWN BUSINESS -- The Times of London
- Friday April 13, 1990
Mr John Gaunt left university he had many grand ideas. He says
he spent six months in bed thinking about them. Reality took seven
years, but he has provided Coventry with something tangible; a
new theatre. Mr Gaunt and a co-operative he formed in 1985 have
taken over a bingo hall with the help of loans from the Government
and the West Midlands Enterprise Board.
building was originally a cinema and was a Mecca dance hall for
a time. It completes its transformation to a fourth form of entertainment
this month. One room has already opened as a cabaret club. Mr
Gaunt, who studied drama at university, said: "It all
happened by accident. I worked at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry,
scene shifting for the pantomime. The group who had left school
in the three years after I did were all on the dole and I suggested
to the Belgrade that we did a play with the unemployed. I wrote
it and Clive Owen, who is now on television in The Chancer, was
provided the impetus for the Tic Toc Theatre company, founded
in 1983 by Mr Gaunt, Miss Lisa Roberts and two others who have
since left. They were joined by Mr Rob Wilkinson and Mr Paul Nolan
a year later, and in 1985 they became a co-operative. Miss Caroline
Butcher, who attended university with Mr Gaunt, is now also a
several years touring, including performances at the Edinburgh
Festival, they have a home and they are providing employment for
more than 20 people in a region with 18 per cent unemployment.
was once a boom town, living off the motor industry. Although
it still has three night clubs it has no dance hall, only two
cinemas and a civic theatre.
co-operative gained its business education going to Edinburgh.
Tic Toc hired a venue from a promoter and sold out. But it came
away with no money. Next year, the group turned promoter and did
the hiring out. The proceeds subsidized the visit to the Scottish
capital and performances throughout the following year.
Toc co-opintends to manage its own premises for the first year
before bringing in a management team.
from the cabaret club, the main room will provide a venue for
big bands, taking up to 900 people, while a piano bar upstairs
provides a more tranquil setting.
turnover is Pounds 1 million a year, an important target given
that Arts Council funding for the theatre is doubtful. Mr Gaunt
said: "It's essential that the arts are subsidized, but there
is no reason why theatre managements cannot be more commercially
have been subsidized for years. Now the buzz-word is marketing.
It's a joke. It's 1990, and the arts have only just discovered
The Times , 1991 -- Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer (Hampstead) was
written only three years later, when he was 37, but it really belongs
to the next century. Its never-before-performed or published fourth
act is quite an important document: it is evidence of Shaw's early
gift for intellectual comedy and proof that he was much more timorous
than his idol Ibsen. What happened was that Shaw had shown his play
to Lady Colin Campbell, a socialite who was to succeed Shaw as drama
critic of The World and who opined that the last act, with its brutally
frank conversation about separation and divorce, was too far ahead
of its time and would ruin the play's reception. Thereupon Shaw,
who was hungry for success at any price, dropped the last act, and
re-wrote the play with a new ending which we now know as Act Three.
this version, the story of Leonard Charteris, conceited, cold
and compulsive upper middle-class womaniser in stormy and indecisive
transit between two women, ends with him ridding himself of the
first woman, Julia, and being got rid of by the second, Grace.
Brian Cox's production now adds on the original fourth act. It
is four years later; Julia's marriage to a tame doctor is on the
rocks, partly because he has fallen in love with yes, Grace. Charteris,
now rather improbably a friend of the family, convinces the couple
that separation is the answer, and ends up back with yes, Julia.
The total effect is of a cool and witty intellectual farce, unexpectedly
ending with a strenuous, rather tedious, Shavian debate. What
actually happened was, I suspect, that Lady Colin thought the
ending improbable and dull (which it is), but decided to cheer
Shaw up by telling him that it was too advanced. That was just
the kind of thing Shaw wanted to hear. He genuinely thought that
The Philanderer was "a dangerous play," written from
a socialist point of view and showing the economic and moral rottenness
of middle-class society which is almost like saying that Ray Cooney's
Run For Your Wife is a comment on the moral pitfalls of the market
economy. What Shaw wrote, in fact, is a farcical expose of social
and intellectual pretensions in the 1890s: Ibsenism, the New Woman,
people who are Morally Advanced, and so on. It is a little dated;
but all you have to do is substitute feminism, animal rights,
unilateral disarmament, or any other serious cause which is made
ridiculous by some of its advocates biting off, intellectually,
more than they can chew.
production moves a little sluggishly and looks distinctly under-rehearsed.
The Philanderer is a farce of ideas and idealists; it is being
played like an earnest comedy, which means that the fire is being
taken out of it. Cox has also decided to make his hero an Irishman,
which may suit the unimportant fact that Charteris is a partial
self-portrait, but which otherwise seems to me quite dotty. You
cannot be an Irishman with a name like Leonard Charteris, let
alone an Irishman with a rather unpolished Dublin accent (which
comes and goes, but let that pass). Besides, has Cox no ear for
language? The vocabulary, the rhythms and cadences of the writing
are totally English. Shaw's Charteris is an upper middle-class
Englishman, a preening, impudent humbug, with that special immaturity
of very clever men for whom sex takes place in the head, or thereabouts,
but who know precisely how to operate the social system for their
own advantage. Clive Owen as Charteris is a lower middle-class
Irishman with a shifty look and all the deviousness of an insecure
outsider whose fumbling body language constantly contradicts the
hauteur and the brisk polish of his words. I liked Eleanor
David's Julia, a voluptuous, pouting poseur but it must be difficult,
acting on your own.
Times 1991 - Stephen Poliakoff's first feature as a director,
Hidden City, remained something of a hidden movie as far as the
cinema was concerned, although its view of subterranean crimes and
misdemeanours in subterreanan London was worthy of a much wider
Close My Eyes (Chelsea et al, 18) will redress the balance:
it is a bold attempt to convey the prevailing morality of the
late 1980s, sexual and social, through the taboo topic of incest.
Gillespie (Saskia Reeves) has been brought up separately from
her brother Richard (Clive Owen), but when she is ditched by her
latest boyfriend finds fraternal, yet at this stage platonic,
comfort in his arms.
life is as well laid-out as his looks strong, regular and handsome.
Yet he needs something more. He chucks in a highly paid job in
planning to work for a protest group which tries to protect the
interests of the indigenous inhabitants in the face of the burgeoning
development in London's Docklands.
sister's life progresses in the opposite direction. She marries
an entrepreneur, Sinclair Bryant (Alan Rickman, hic et ubique),
who has profited from the invisible skills of the times "There's
a lot of money to be made telling people what's going to happen,
and there's an awful lot to be made even if you're wrong."
They live in Betjemanesque splendour in a country house by an
idyllic reach of the Thames.
she needs something more. Aware that she has the power to arouse
Richard sexually, she invites his advances. Despite her protestations
that he should stop short of the fell deed, she does nothing to
prevent it. The two become lovers. Soon she is betraying her husband
with her brother. But while she seems to regard their affair as
some form of recreational sex made all the more exciting because
it is incestuous Richard has become dangerously obsessed with
her. All this takes place against a scenic sub-plot linked by
is splendidly served by his production designer, Luciana Arrighi,
and his director of photography, Witold Stok, as he cleverly contrasts
the stark futurism of the Docklands with the Seurat-like beauty
of the riparian Home Counties, where the ladies sport parasols
at picnics and the sun is ever-setting.
what, precisely, is it all about? Down at the National Theatre
it is said of Poliakoff's contemporary, David Hare, that at one
stage in most of his plays a woman comes on in a belted raincoat
and delivers the message to the audience. She's needed here. The
two immense themes the evils of capitalism and the allure of incest
are enmeshed in such a delicate filigree that one never quite
catches up with the intrigue. The film is a pleasure to watch
but perhaps it would have exercised added power if it had been
more ugly and uncomfortable.
slim story fuels this pleasant British television movie in which
two Lancashire lads Jake, played by Clive Owen, and Ringe, David
Thewlis up and away in their beautifully restored American gas-guzzler.
They reach the Lake District, their money runs out, and the dream
sags, but Jim Cartwright's whimsical screenplay sees them through.
Were real life that easy. Dir: Beeban Kidron (1989)
- The Times
Kavanagh QC and how we groaned? Same old courtroom plots, same
old characters straight out of central casting, same old glossy
production values. That's the one hugely popular and a critical
success to boot. Well, for Kavanagh QC read The Turnaround (ITV).
Same old private detective storylines, same familiar cast and,
just like Kavanagh, same old problems with the 9pm watershed if
the producers continue to cram 90 minutes of adult drama into
the pre-News at Ten slot. And if it doesn't also turn out to be
hugely popular and a critical success to boot, I'll eat my video
From its gripping start to its Tarantino-like climax, The Turnaround
was very good indeed. Beautifully made, nicely acted and with
more than enough plot to fill an hour and a half, last night's
pilot episode should have no difficulty convincing the network
controller that a few more might be in order. But not too many,
mind after all, we wouldn't want to spoil a good thing.
arrived despite familiarity of truly towering proportions, providing
further proof that if you rework an old formula well enough, it
really doesn't matter. A series about a moody private detective
with problems at home and problems at work now there's original.
Nick Sharman (Clive Owen) matched the Identikit exactly. A man
with an ex-wife and an ex-police career, he now scrapes a living
as a private detective, assisted by a beaten-up BMW, a secretary
with a shoplifting habit and a very fat cat. Oh, did I mention
that he has a very beautiful girlfriend (Rowena King)? Sorry,
but you'd probably guessed that.
Sharman, Owen combined male magnetism with brute insensitivity
in sufficiently equal measures to attract a following among both
sexes. His pursuit of the missing money, stashed away by a crooked
and now dead financial adviser, was aided and abetted by a strong
cast, including a bearded Bill Paterson as the menacing but moribund
client and John Salthouse as Sharman's obligingly bent police
chum, the improbably monikered DI Robber.
excellent was Rowena King, although she spent so much time establishing
what Fiona wasn't (she wasn't a policewoman, a strippagram or
a private detective) that when she eventually turned round to
announce that she also wasn't our hero's girlfriend any more,
I wasn't a bit surprised. While The Turnaround looked and sounded
great, the plot did occasionally move along at alarming speed.
"They were obviously looking for the money Kellerman stole
from his investors," said Sharman, after, ooh, all of three
minutes' investigative work. "Do you know that?" said
a worried-looking Paterson. It came as a bit of a surprise to
me too. But never mind, I'm already looking forward to more.
Sharman - The Times 1995
TURNAROUND Wednesday, ITV, 8.30pm
Owen stars as south London private detective Nick Sharman.
He does it well, hunched and hard, speaking out of the side of
his mouth in snooker halls, staring down baddies, running around
and finding other people's money and secrets. It's an efficient
adventure film, with Bill Paterson doing a good, grave turn as
a dying gangster intent on avenging the deaths of his sister and
her children. The low-life locations look far too pretty in the
moody light and the things the women say are, as ever in this
kind of drama, mostly unconvincing. But the pace is good and Owen
and Paterson carry it off.
south London thriller with lots of guns and scowls.
for Living - Donmar Playhouse 1994 - Two reviews
poor Noel. I knew him, Horatio a fellow of infinite jest, of most
excellent fancy, the finest writer of English high comedy after
Congreve and Wilde. What would he think of Sean Mathias's production
of Design For Living at the Donmar Warehouse? It is not simply
that the production is bad, though some of it is really quite
atrocious. No, it is much more complicated than that. It is a
question of how a 1990s sensibility, whatever that means, reads
the 1930s; how a liberated, over-sophisticated, over-experienced,
but basically innocent generation interprets another age, six
decades earlier, when language was much more coded and life included
quite a few things that dared not speak their names.
For Living is about homosexuality, bisexuality, and an eventual
menage a trois. It is about three people in that state of psychological
hyperventilation which leads to amorality. Not immorality, please
note, but amorality. Leo the playwright (Paul Rhys), Otto the
painter (Clive Owen) and Gilda (Rachel Weiz), who later becomes
an interior decorator, are obsessed with one another to the point
where notions of right and wrong become a tiresome irrelevance.
They do not flout conventional morality, they do not even ignore
it: they live almost as if it did not exist. They are like children
who hate being shut out of things, and they have the amoral, animal
appetite of children for excitement, fame, success, sexuality
and, above all, each other's presence.
himself was not an amoral writer, far from it: indeed, his sense
of morality could sometimes border on the sentimental. But here
he is doing one of the most difficult things a playwright can
attempt, which is to portray amoral behaviour without either moral
approval or disapproval, making it just attractive enough not
to be loathsome and just brutal enough not to be attractive. Moreover,
the true sexual vocabulary of his characters could not be found
in any dictionary available to the polite 1930s public: part of
the time Coward was writing in code. "If you're a writer,"
Otto tells Leo, "it's your duty to write what you think."
Coward must have winced when he wrote that; if he didn't, he should
have. For all these reasons, Design For Living is a real tightrope
of a play. I think Mathias understands all this perfectly well.
I suspect he knows, too, that as a piece of writing this is not
one of Coward's best plays: the dialogue keeps getting a bit pompous
and stilted, as if to suggest that The Master is feeling a little
unsteady on his tightrope. The actors, too, seem to know this:
there is a sense of effort in the air, of intelligent artists
translating, mostly successfully, self-conscious phrases into
trouble is that Mathias wants to translate the whole play. I have
always thought that Otto and Leo love Gilda as a proxy for each
other: sleeping with her is a substitute, titillating because
once removed, for the real thing. When they are jealous, it is
not because she has left one for the other, but because they have
been left out. When, at the end, they all laugh greedily and smugly
together, it is because the triangle of lovers is at long last
complete. "I prefer to think," Coward said later, "that
Gilda, Otto and Leo were laughing at themselves." There speaks
the dangerous artist camouflaging himself as a harmless entertainer.
Coward had too much imagination and intelligence not to know that
his characters were laughing in triumph, and that he had portrayed
the amoral heaven of a forbidden religion.
point about Coward's language, social and erotic, is that it is
brittle, polished and exquisitely polite. This has deceived quite
a few people. Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the world premiere on
Broadway, described the play as "a gay bit of drollery"
and he did not mean what you and I mean by gay. No, the frisson
of Coward's moral and amoral comedy comes from the collisions
between the elegant presentation and the unspeakable content.
I think his public sensed, if only subconsciously, what it meant
when at the end of Act Two, Otto and Leo, deserted by Gilda, felt
like two lonely boys and went off travelling together. This kind
of sophisticated sexual comedy may labour under the disadvantage
of having to speak in code, but it makes up for it by a delicious
sense of complicity. You are looking into Noel's secret garden.
For Mathias, this is not enough. The two men dot the Is and cross
the Ts by undressing each other and kissing with passionate expertise,
as the curtain falls. The third act degenerates into low camp.
Otto and Leo arrive in Gilda's New York apartment like a pair
of Champagne Charlies. They should be polished, suave, and lethally
witty; what they are is flashy and vulgar. They pose and prance;
they flirt coarsely with the butler; they are almost like rough
trade. Coward wrote an elegant, deadly comedy of manners and morals;
Mathias turns it into a farce for bruisers. His problem is that
he has no sense of decorum. I do not mean that he doesn't know
the difference between a fish fork and a decanter or whatever,
but that he has no feel for comic language which is deployed obliquely,
for comedy which exposes and wounds under the cloak of style.
This is probably why the whole style of the production is completely
un-1930s. It would be extremely tiresome if everyone in every
Coward play sounded like Coward; but if you take the sheen off
the dialogue, if you neglect to observe the proper accents and
the devious social refinements and refuse to follow the self-conscious,
slightly exhibitionistic rhythm of the speeches, you destroy Coward's
language and with it half the play. Stephen Brimson Lewis's costumes
do their own bit to remove the play from its period. Some of the
clothes and shoes are absurd. Gilda's cleaning woman works in
a two-piece suit and her comedy routines are awful. Leo arrives
back from a house party carrying his things in a small rucksack.
supporting actors in the New York scene are quite grotesquely
dressed, and their playing is amateurish.
poor Noel. He wrote a play whose sexual pathology is as devious
and sinister as anything in Genet. He wrote a play about the dangerous
corruption and inward snobbery of success. He wrote about the
monstrous egoism of male artists who need the female only to admire,
arouse and cosset them. Is this not topical? Does it need translating
into a bullfight for bruisers? Alas, poor Noel.
ago, Luchino Visconti staged Harold Pinter's Old Times, in which
a man battles with his wife's former flatmate for her emotional
one point in his production the two women kissed and canoodled
in open acknowledgement of lesbian feelings that, if they existed
at all, remained unstated in the text. Pinter was livid. He even
asked us critics to write letters of protest to the Italian director:
which we did, although with what result history does not report.
were moments in Sean Mathias's revival of Noel Coward's Design
for Living when I half-expected a suave figure in a silk winding
sheet to come frowning on to Stephen Brimson Lewis's set. Why
that striptease and those openly gay embraces in Act II? Why the
embryonic orgy at the end? Perhaps it was imagination, but I heard
a clipped whisper in my ear: would someone please question the
director's decision to make the implicit explicit and the coded
is a tricky issue. There is no doubt that earlier this century
some playwrights, notably Coward, Rattigan and Maugham, translated
homosexual feelings into heterosexual terms in order to avoid
rejection. The Deep Blue Sea is an obvious case, and one whose
camouflage is so successful that a production in which the judge's
wife and airman's mistress was a man would be absurd. Design for
Living is, however, the play in which Coward came closest to confessing
his personal proclivities and proclaiming his libertarian credo.
slams out in conventional ire when his best friend, Leo, sleeps
with his mistress, Gilda. Leo is similarly upset when he catches
Otto and Gilda in post-coital disarray, although this time the
woman not only leaves but makes a conventional marriage elsewhere.
But gradually they all realise that a solution that keeps them
apart is no solution. That's why the play ends by celebrating
a menage a trois: a daring denouement for 1933 but not one whose
details Coward lets us inspect.
is far less squeamish, although not very obviously so at first.
Rhys's long, languid Leo and Clive Owen's Otto, affably clumping
around his Paris flat in left-bank gear, exchange a smacking kiss.
But we mainly notice Rachel Weisz's Gilda, who seems less sophisticated
than she should be, but is stunningly sexy. Since part of the
first scene occurs behind a vast square net, I was not sure if
she really was taking butter from that tiny, shabby fridge and
smearing herself with it; but she certainly frolics among the
cushions and discarded underwear like some gorgeous succuba, all
impishness, charm and danger.
to London (Nelson's Column, Big Ben et al behind the windows)
and the men come into their own. Before long they are actually
undressing and boozily embracing each other. So to New York (cut-out
skyscrapers, jewelled people, and a starker version of the staircase
Mathias made his trademark in his recent Parents Terribles) and
the overt flaunting of much that Coward kept suppressed. Rhys
and Owen do not just shock Gilda's guests by playing the fool
in identical evening dress, as the script demands: they make it
obvious that Tweedledum and Tweedledee are lovers who need only
an Alice to make their dream complete.
net lowers to embrace the trio in their sensual heaven, leaving
me with decidedly mixed feelings. This a bold, inventive production
which creates a strange, troubling atmosphere as it unsentimentally
defends everybody's right to be himself in bed. It is also tricksy
and presumptuous and a bit crude. I am still uncertain which view
should predominate and so, I suspect, is Coward's ghost.
Linekar The Times 1994
teach you about eternal triangles in the first year at university,
so don't worry, you are in safe hands. I pulled out my dusty notes
from the shed last night, and sure enough, going all the way back
to Aeschylus, you find the same star-crossed love situation that
has informed two major primetime dramas on this week's television
(and who knows, there may be more to come).
eternal triangle goes like this. First, you have Man A and Man
B, in love with the same woman; then you have Woman; and thirdly,
you have World Cup football on the telly, comically distracting
the men's attention and bonding them in rivalry. Aristotle (whom
classical sculptors depict wrapped in a striped scarf) memorably
described in the Poetics how catharsis, the purging of the emotions,
was available to the dramatist through three devices. These he
nominated as "pity, fear ... and the re-creation of semi-final
penalty shoot outs".
think it's all over. It is now." Well, not a chance of that,
clearly. While last night's Granada screen adaptation of An Evening
with Gary Lineker (ITV) was in a different league from Saturday's
Fair Game, it certainly proved that the man-woman-football theme
still has room for lots of permutations. Arthur Smith and Chris
England's opening scene last night was hilarious.
am leaving you!" says Woman bravely, having turned off the
telly to get some attention. "Is it someone I know?"
asks Man A. "I am going to live with Gary Lineker!"
she declares. Man A thinks carefully, and then smiles broadly
with genuine admiration. "Gary Lineker, eh? Well done. Anybody
else, obviously, it would have been a bit of a blow. I hope you'll
be very happy together."
are five characters in An Evening with Gary Lineker. Monica (Caroline
Quentin) is married to publisher Bill (Clive Owen), who
has a ghastly friend, Ian (Paul Merton). On holiday in Ibiza during
the 1990 World Cup, they all watch telly. Ian introduces a German
girlfriend, Brigitta (Lizzy McInnerny), to the group, which is
also joined by Bill's debonair top-selling author Dan (Martin
Clunes). Despite the opening scene, Monica is not having an affair
with Gary Lineker. The chap in question is Dan. You can tell you're
not supposed to like Ian, because he takes pickled onions on holiday,
makes weak jokes, and doesn't like football. "That's another
thing. Off-side. What does that mean?" (Merton hasn't much
of a future in straight acting, but he probably knew that.) On
the other hand, you are supposed to adore Dan, because Stoke City
is more important to him than life itself. "Would you miss
your mother's funeral for a game?" asks Monica, when she
first meets him (in flashback). "My mother would know not
to get herself buried on a Saturday afternoon," twinkles
Dan in reply. "She loves me. My mother will die in the cricket
course, the main reason people will have watched An Evening with
Gary Lineker was for the great man himself appearing in the final
minutes suspended above the hotel swimming pool in a ball of golden
light. The effect was spectacular and very funny. Leaving aside
their troubles, Monica, Dan and Bill (all beautifully played)
united in praise of this squidgy-faced chap in shorts. "Is
it true that your farts smell like perfume, Gary?" they asked,
entranced. And apparently, it is.
of us who follow football with a sense of proportion carry the
small but annoying burden of being associated with those who follow
the game with no sense whatsoever, of proportion or anything else.
is an army of grown men out there who name their children after
the members of football teams. They nod in fervent approval at
the story of the late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who once
took his wife to a reserve team match at Huddersfield on their
the start of An Evening With Gary Lineker, showing on Tuesday,
there is a sequence in which a woman tells her husband, who is
watching a match on television, that she is leaving him. He replies:
"Can't this wait until half-time?" I suspect that a
lot of women watching that will be torn between laughter and tears.
play ran for years in the West End and now comes to ITV, in the
shape of the "first full-scale, in-house comedy film production"
commissioned by Granada Television. Their trumpet would sound
a less hollow note if they could have been bothered to commission
something new, but with transmission on the eve of the World Cup
finals from America the scheduling is at least timely.
play has been extensively adapted by the original writers, Chris
England and Arthur Smith, and it works well until a fatuous new
ending in which Gary Lineker descends from the sky, Superman-style,
to be saluted by the protagonists. This has no merit whatsoever
beyond enabling Granada to claim a guest appearance by Lineker.
writing is very funny but the theme is serious: men as boys, men
as emotional cripples, inadequates using the activities of Tottenham
Hotspur, Stoke City and, most of all, England to put a barrier
between them and the confronting of their shortcomings. Paul Merton,
television's flavour of the month, appears as Ian, a fool, and
his real-life wife Caroline Quentin plays Monica, the wife supplanted
by football, whose revenge on her husband Bill (Clive Owen) is
an affair with one of the authors he publishes.
increasingly tense strands of these relationships are inter-woven
in front of a television set on which the men are trying to watch
the 1990 World Cup semi-final between England and West Germany.
The drama is hindered rather than helped by the presence of a
sexy German girl seeking to improve her English, which is already
adequate except in the nuances of colloquialism: "You've
got to hand vot to Shilton?"
problem with the piece is that the theme is old hat and serves
to reinforce the assumption that for most men, a penalty shoot-out
and a marriage are in some way dramas on the same scale. They
aren't, are they?
1993 The Times
Brown on Poliakoff's ultimately disappointing Century; and the
hits and misses of the box-office year.
have good news and bad news. The good news is that we end the
year with the release of an interesting British film, Century,
a prickly period piece from Stephen Poliakoff, designed to puncture
the gilded charms of the world according to Merchant Ivory.
script had been brewing since the late 1980s, but the incest drama
Close My Eyes understandably beat it to the starting gate. On
the back of that success, enough finance was finally attracted
for this multi-layered drama about science, morality and the sins
of the future century (the film is set in 1900).
many associates from Close My Eyes around him, Poliakoff plunged
into action and shot his quirky, ambitious script in 36 days.
The bad news is that Century does not work. So many ideas are
whirling round the writer-director's head; so few of them reach
out and grab the audience's lapels.
central character, played by Clive Owen, is an ambitious young
doctor at Charles Dance's medical research institute. At first
Dance takes him under his wing; but once Owen finds that his mentor
stifles research on insulin and clumsily sterilises London's poor
on eugenic principles, the star pupil goes on the attack.
is a woman in the case, of course (Miranda Richardson). There
is also a father (Robert Stephens, at his fruitiest), a Romanian
emigre who landed in Scotland and nobly ignores the gentry's racist
slurs and anti-Semitism. In Century, Poliakoff's years as a playwright
fail him, for he rarely shapes his proliferating themes into a
forceful dramatic pattern. Despite his concern with the contemporary
relevance of the issues at stake, we remain distant observers
of the characters' battles, not participants. Visually, too, there
is disappointingly little to chew on. In Close My Eyes, set in
a sweltering yuppie summer, the photography imaginatively crystallised
a mood, a place, a time. Here, Poliakoff's cameraman Witold Stock
trains his lens on Victorian brick corridors, tailored finery,
smudge-faced gypsies: sights that may individually intrigue, but
never build to suggest the dawn of a strange, exciting new world.
Century, faults duly acknowledged, valiantly tries to leap from
the rut and stimulate the grey matter. Another Stakeout, directed
by John Badham, causes no brain strain and positively hugs the
rut, content to trot out the same mix of silly comedy and police
action that pleased many punters in Stakeout, six years ago. The
time when John Badham movies had a sharp edge seems to have vanished
Darkening - The Times 1995
are being invested in films that will never be seen on the cinemascreen.
Rupert Widdicombe reports as a new art form takes off. Scene 74:
Sinner's Inn, a sleazy intergalactic watering hole. Enter Clive
Owen, star of Chancer and Close My Eyes, as Lev Arris, a man with
a mission a man whose fate is in your hands. A few days earlier,
Arris had come round in a hospital with no idea who he was and
now, heavily armed assassins are trying hard to kill him. Penniless,
confused, but as determined and resourceful as a hero should be,
Arris winds up in Sinner's Inn talking to barman Joe, played by
John Hurt. Joe drops hints about "juicy deals". Should
Arris trust Joe and play along, or should he politely decline?
viewer decision time in The Darkening, Europe's first "interactive
movie" which was shot recently at Pinewood and is now in
$6m movie Instead it will be "published" in February
next year as a set of four CD-Rom discs. In exchange for about
Pounds 40, owners of multimedia computers, or games platforms
such as the Sony PlayStation, will be able to lose themselves
in Arris's story. With the viewer's guidance, Arris may meet and
interact with up to 50 characters many of them familiar faces
such as Christopher Walken, David Warner, Jurgen Prochnow, David
McCallum, Brian Blessed, and the rising French star, Mathilda
May. With skill, strategy and a lot of patience (around 48 hours,
if you're good), the viewer helps Arris to discover the truth
and the happy ending every hero deserves. With such a distinguished
cast, and a budget larger than many of the linear films made in
this country, The Darkening is clearly no ordinary computer game.
That Electronic Arts, the company making it and others, is prepared
to spend such sums is a clear indication of the way things are
going. Vast sums of money are riding on interactive media being
The Next Big Thing. The telecommunications giants, the games industry
and the computer firms of Silicon Valley believe it will be as
revolutionary as film or television were in their day. Of course,
no two companies agree on what kind of box this future will come
in (see Home Hardware Wars, below) but many are convinced that
a new mass medium is emerging. Consumers, already overwhelmed
by choice, may wonder what need they have for another medium,
another technology. But it is not their present needs that are
driving the development of interactive technology, but the hope
of creating future needs. Mistakes were made in the past. In 1916,
the board of the American Marconi company failed to spot the potential
of the "radio music box", rejecting a proposal to make
a domestic model so that "audiences could enjoy lectures,
musical recitals, et cetera". Companies know that in the
days before television families did not look longingly at the
space the telly would one day occupy, dreaming of game shows and
soap operas. And when television first arrived people were dubious,
yet very quickly, in less than a generation after it became available,
they wondered how life was possible without it. History and sheer
corporate spending power suggest that the same will happen again.
the case of interactive media, a question mark not only hangs
over the rapidly evolving technology, but also over whether it
is possible to make interactive entertainment with a mass appeal.
This is what Electronic Arts is attempting to do with The Darkening
and other projects such as the $10m movie Hamill, Malcolm McDowell
and John Rhys-Davies. "We want to hit a wider audience than
buys a typical computer game the type of person who might go to
see a big-budget action movie," says Erin Roberts, executive
producer of The Darkening. The existing market for games is lucrative
at $16 billion a year, it dwarfs the film industry but stagnant.
The demographics are neatly encapsulated in the phrase "boys
of all ages" sales are concentrated among males aged 12-25,
they slump between 25 and 35, and then pick up again at 35-plus.
is the key to reaching a wider audience, Roberts believes, and
the only way to have people emotionally and interactively involved
is to give them characters they care about and some kind of say
in what happens to them. That means bringing in experienced writers,
directors and actors.
The Darkening, the basic story and setting were devised by Roberts
and his team, and then a script was commissioned from Diane Dwaine,
a US television writer for such shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Roberts then approached Steve Hilliker, a young British director
with experience in pop videos and television, to direct the live
action sequences. Hilliker was sceptical. "I told them that
I didn't know anything about computer games but they loved that
because they thought I could bring them something they wouldn't
get from within the games world." They sent him Dwaine's
monster 500-page script (a normal film script runs to about 120
pages). "When I read it I was totally confused I had never
seen a script that had choices before."
had to read it twice more before he understood that the concept
was a variation on the standard alternative endings approach that
most interactive narrative projects seem to follow (see Narrative
Futures, right). With The Darkening, the viewer decides what Lev
Arris does, but there is only one ending to the story. The aim
of the game is to reach that conclusion. It takes a long time
to reach it because there are dozens of subplots like branches
off the main trunk of a tree. These subplots are to do with the
strategy element of the game Arris has to earn money to afford
to travel and follow up the clues to his identity. Along the way,
he has to fight the people out to kill him. In effect, The Darkening
is a weird cross-breed between a film, a strategy game and what
the games industry calls a "shoot 'em up".
the film sequences, the choices are couched in terms of Arris's
dilemmas. When a decision point is reached, the screen freezes.
Spelt out in the dark strips above and below the image are the
possibilities in the bar scene, for example, Arris is in two minds
what to say to Joe's hints of "juicy deals". Choice
1: "Hmm ... Sounds more than slightly illegal...
like the sound of it." Choice 2: "Maybe I can get a
a little 'hot'..." Move the cursor into either space and
you hear Arris think the words aloud. Click on either choice and
the scene and other encounters that lie ahead unfolds according
to the decision you have made.
choices you make dictate the shape of the film. Once Hilliker
had seen the light, he knew what to do with the story. "It
is about one man's search for his identity, which is a classic
film-noir plot, a 1940s kind of thing and not really science fiction
so I decided to give it that look even though it takes place in
the future." The next issue was the cast. Roberts turned
to Jeremy Zimmerman, a casting director with 10 years' experience
in television and film. It wasn't easy at first, Zimmerman discovered.
"People had a natural caution or suspicion when I said I
was calling about an interactive CD-Rom. One said: 'I'm afraid
my clients don't do that kind of thing,' but attitudes are changing."
For the role of the controllable hero, Zimmerman wanted an emerging
face rather than an established star, and decided on Clive Owen.
many, Owen had doubts at first. "I was in the last generation
to leave school without touching a computer, and I asked myself:
'Do I want to be involved in a computer game?"' John Hurt
needed less convincing. "This is the way our business is
going and an incredibly fascinating field for an actor to work
in." He had no objections to becoming software. "When
movies first started, theatrical actors were probably asking themselves,
'Do you want to put yourself on celluloid?"' In a way, Hurt
is right. There are many parallels between the early days of film
and the faltering evolution of this would-be Eighth Art. The century
of film is a good time to look back to the troublesome technology
camera that plagued film pioneers. And from our perspective, it
seemed to take a long time to work out what to do with the medium....
Boy Blues - The Times 1996
trekking in a rainforest can look quite attractive when the other
option is watching a Screen Two of the quality of Saturday's Bad
Boy Blues (BBC2). Only an hour long, this was one of the worst
and nastiest bits of unnecessary drama I've seen in a very long
time. People in ordinary conversation often say "I've lost
the plot" these days. Bad Boy Blues (by 'Bili Bandele-Thomas)
had lost the plot, but unfortunately hadn't noticed. It concerned
two grown men from south London one black, one white who have
been involved in violence from an early age.
grown up, Paul (Clive Owen) is a paid assassin; his old mate AD
(Maynard Eziashi) is an undercover cop. They hold big guns to
people's heads, and sometimes pull the trigger. Both wear cool
shades. Old pop music supplies the soundtrack, and flashback substitutes
for tension. The language is unprintable in a family newspaper.
does a homage to Quentin Tarantino become simply ripping off his
ideas? Sitting in his car before committing murder, Paul starts
lecturing AD on the films of Woody Allen lamely, and with a passion
that is evidently bogus. In a similarly irritating flashback,
as boys at school, they squabble in the corridor about women born
under the sign of Libra. Such scenes are doubtless inspired by
the hilarious, time-wasting badinage between killers in Tarantino's
movies, but what's the point? Just because Tarantino can write
hilarious badinage, other people's inane chat doesn't suddenly
look good. Perhaps the director (Andy Wilson) failed to find the
essential zany comedy or something. Either way it was an hour
of my life gone forever, and I am thinking of ringing the Duty
Officer to demand its return.