Clive Owen - Various Reviews over the Years

All these older reviews from The London Times are thanks to the detective work of Erica
It 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.

SHOW TIME AT THE TIC TOC; YOUR OWN BUSINESS -- The Times of London - Friday April 13, 1990

WHEN 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.

The 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 in it."

It 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 member.

After 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.

Coventry 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.

The 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.

Tic Toc co-opintends to manage its own premises for the first year before bringing in a management team.

Apart 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.

Projected 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 minded.

Reps 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 marketing."

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.

In 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.

Cox's 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.

The 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 currency.

Maybe 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.

Natalie 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.

His 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.

His 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.

But 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 the Thames.

Poliakoff 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.

But 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.

Vroom (C4, 10pm)

A 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)

Sharman - The Times 1995

Remember 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 tapes.

TX_TX 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.

Success 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.

As 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.

Also 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.

More Sharman - The Times 1995

THE TURNAROUND Wednesday, ITV, 8.30pm

Clive 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.

Nifty south London thriller with lots of guns and scowls.

Design for Living - Donmar Playhouse 1994 - Two reviews

Alas, 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.

Design 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.

Coward 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 living speech.

The 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.

The 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.

The supporting actors in the New York scene are quite grotesquely dressed, and their playing is amateurish.

Alas, 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.


Years ago, Luchino Visconti staged Harold Pinter's Old Times, in which a man battles with his wife's former flatmate for her emotional allegiance.

At 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.

There 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 clear.

This 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.

Otto 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.

Mathias is far less squeamish, although not very obviously so at first.

Paul 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.

Cut 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.

The 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.

Gary Linekar The Times 1994

THEY 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).

The 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".

"They 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.

"I 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."

There 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 season."

Of 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.


Those 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.

There 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 wedding anniversary.

At 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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?"

My 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?

Century 1993 The Times

Geoff Brown on Poliakoff's ultimately disappointing Century; and the hits and misses of the box-office year.

I 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.

The 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).

With 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.

The 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.

There 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 for good.


The Darkening - The Times 1995

Millions 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?

It's viewer decision time in The Darkening, Europe's first "interactive movie" which was shot recently at Pinewood and is now in post-production.

The $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.

In 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.

"Emotion" 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.

With 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."

He 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".

During 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...

Don't like the sound of it." Choice 2: "Maybe I can get a bargain ...

Something 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.

The 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.

Like 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....

Bad Boy Blues - The Times 1996

However, 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.

Now 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.

When 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.