THE BBC AND GREAT DRAMA

It does not really help to speak of a personal nightmare again, it just brings back hurt, sadness and anger too, so on to pastures new. In 30 years there have only really been three great drama series on the BBC. The first was I Claudius, dated in style and probably sets now, but extraordinary, and because not only were the cast the greats of British acting, especially Derek Jacobi, but because it was drawn from Robert Grave’s novels, and put such emphasis on the script. It is always about the writing first. It put those expensive historical costume dramas like The Tudors to complete shame.

The second was Edge of Darkness, because the absolutely realistic drama stepped to the edge of the metaphysical. Bob Peck, in the search for his daughter’s murderers, and battling nuclear secrets, but always refusing to be ‘on your side’ was magnificent and if you read the published script, even the ‘stage directions’ speak of the depth of the writer’s vision.

The last and most recent is the remarkable The Shadow Line, written, produced and directed by Hugo Blick. Perhaps it’s obvious that an actor who played The Joker in Batman Returns, should so perfectly walk the line between dark and light. Where the police become the villains, and the villains the heroes, well, one or two of them, and all are aware of and affected by life’s shadow line. Hugo Blick was kind enough to look at an idea from Phoenix, which in the end he rather scorned, but it was useful, and an object lesson in how different writing for TV or Film is to writing novels.

Apparently in an imaginative attempt to reflect the structure of the Double Helix, Hugo sat down to write The Shadow Line, and produced drama shining in its clarity. Moving from mystery and even confusion to chillingly simple revelations. Apparently loved by actors, perhaps because it was not afraid to put almost ‘metaphysical’ dialogue into the mouths of who we imagine are ‘real’ people, and it is profoundly about people, and compassionate too, its structure and dynamic became so compulsive and convincing that it could confront the great issues, and really touched Aristole’s prescription for great tragedy, pity and terror. It was genuinely frightening, truly human and ultimately profound about love, life and survival. It is rather interesting that in jokey moments Blick apparently most associates with the almost superhuman figure of the carefully murderous Gatehouse. ‘You are the threads,’ says the puppet master, and ex spy, in a cheap trilby and sinistre gloves, “I am the rope.” Not an easily comfortable view of what binds man into the dynamic of life, but perhaps Hugo Blick will now write a comedy, in the Shakespearian sense, or maybe, after working with Steve Coogan, he has already jumped straight into the period of ‘the problem plays’.

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