Clara Oswin Oswald – best character on the telly this Christmas? Or just a nu River Song? Maybe both.
Well for those not interested in the Doctor Whos, Downtons, Mirandas or Royles this Christmas and looking for something different the BBC has had two ‘original’ dramas either side of Christmas. Both different in story and execution but with one thing in common. The hero and heroine of both are played by two actors – a younger version and and an older version. Rory Kinnear became Alfred Molina; Maimie McCoy became Francesca Annis; Hayley Atwell became Charlotte Rampling and Rufus Sewell will become Michael Gambon. I’m not usually a fan of this – when the actors change because it hardly ever works. In that classic chick-flick The Notebook, I wasn’t upset at the end because I didn’t think that James Garner and Gena Rowlands looked or sounded or acted like Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams and they seemed like different people in a separate storyline. Michael Winterbottom tried to do something about this recently in the drama ‘Everyday’ shown on Channel 4 last month. John Simm and Shirley Henderson filmed it over 5 years so that their 4 kids in the drama were the same kids too, growing up on camera. But that was only over 5 years. Loving Miss Hatto and Restless were spanning 50 and 30 years.
Loving Miss Hatto was a one-off drama penned by Victoria Wood based on the true story of Joyce Hatto, classical pianist, and her husband Barrie (William Barrington-Coupe). They met on screen in the 1950s, just after the war as Rory Kinnear and Maimie McCoy. He’s a wannabe music producer and chancer, she’s a pianist but too nervous to play in front of large audiences. They romance and marry, he boosts her career but it doesn’t get anywhere. Later, cut to 2002 and McCoy is now Francesca Annis and Kinnear is Alfred Molina. Her voice and expressions have changed a lot. He’s grown some rather bushy eyebrows. Kinnear and Molina seem to have worked at an amalgamated accent together. Annis and McCoy haven’t and it’s jarring. There’s interest in an old recording of Hatto’s so old Barrie starts making new records. But the old tapes aren’t very good or complete so he digitally remasters other people’s records to sound like his wife Joyce had recorded them. There’s some good acting on how relationships don’t always stay romantic and light as they were when they were young; there’s bitterness, frustration and familiarity. Hatto has cancer and dies, while Barrie has to face the music (haha) as the fraud is discovered. It was a nice, light Sunday night drama, but ruined by having Annis come back as an apparition/ghost – and as I’ve said the switch to present day with different actors was jarring. It just seemed like different characters and a different story. I’m not sure if ageing up with prosthetics and make up would have made it better or probably worse as then I would have been distracted by that instead….
Meanwhile on Thursday night and concluded tonight (Friday) has been the two-parter Restless from the novel by William Boyd of the same name, and he also wrote the screenplay. I’ve read the book and I loved it and so I was predisposed to like this adaptation as well – although we all know adaptations don’t always work. But fear not, because so far this drama has been brilliant. Well acted, suspenseful, dramatic. great direction flitting back and forth between the 1940s and 1970s. And so far we’ve only had to compare Hayley Atwell and Charlotte Rampling as the Michael Gambon vs Rufus Sewell comparison takes place tonight, but it hasn’t mattered that they don’t look the same because they’re acting similarly or just so well that it hasn’t jarred.
In the 1970s, Charlotte Rampling is Sally Gilmartin, retired, widowed and living in a cottage near a village and mother to Ruth Gilmartin – Michelle Dockery – a single mum and PhD student at Cambridge University (it was Oxford in the book but maybe they couldn’t get permission to film there so have switched it). When Ruth goes to visit Sally her mother is worried that someone may have followed her and that there are people in the woods who want to kill her. Paranoid? Well, actually Sally is not Sally but Eva Delectorskaya,a Russian who used to be a British spy. The action flits between World War Two as we see Hayley Atwell (Eva) train to become a British spy after her brother is killed by French fascists and the 1970s as Ruth reads her mother’s diary and works out how to protect her elderly mother from the people in the woods. The training footage with Atwell learning to sharpen her memory, the American states, how to shake off people following her and how to find her way back to base is great as are the scenes when she works under AAS and her boss Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewell) with whom she starts an affair. But one of the first things she told him was not to trust anyone, not even him, and so what will happen? Can we trust Sewell/Gambon? We’ll find out tonight. And though Gambon and Sewell look NOTHING LIKE EACH OTHER and Sewell has really been on top form (the BBC really should get him another leading drama now that Zen is not coming back) and I’m not sure I’ll believe they’re the same person, all the supporting players and storyline has been excellent so far that I don’t think I’ll be spending time thinking about it because I’ll be gripped wondering what will happen next.