Saturday, 10 November 2012

Scotsman TV preview: EVERYDAY and THE HOUR.

This article was originally published in The Scotsman on 10th November 2012.

Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

Wednesday, BBC2, 9pm

Paul Whitelaw

Proving the old adage that a stopped clock will be right at least twice a day, Kevin Bishop – an otherwise perfunctory footnote in the collected works of television comedy – once produced a memorable sketch presumably titled 'Gritty BAFTA'. Specifically inspired by the then inescapable hype surrounding Channel 4's heavyweight adaptation of Red Riding, it took an amusingly blunt swipe at those ostentatiously prestigious TV dramas seemingly designed to reduce BAFTA voters to quivers of admiring jelly.

Striding around an artfully photographed rain and blood-lashed North, Bishop and his cohorts, playing intense TV character actors for whom the craft is paramount, starred in a spoof trailer muttering nothing but “Gritty BAFTA” in a variety of dramatic timbres. “Coming soon, to Channel 4,” whispered the ersatz announcer with maximum faux portent. Not the most sophisticated satirical attack, perhaps, but it made its point cheekily and succinctly enough.

I mention this, not to automatically discredit Michael Winterbottom's latest opus, EVERYDAY, nor, heaven forbid, to suggest some sneaking admiration for the work of Kevin Bishop. But I can't deny that, if ever a C4 drama had “Gritty BAFTA” stencilled through its core, it's this ponderous slice of dour social realism.

Now, I'm all for unflinching British dramas that hold up a mirror to the harsh realities of society. But I'd rather they achieved that while telling an engaging story stocked with three-dimensional characters. Everyday resolutely fails on the second count.

One of the most versatile British auteurs of recent times, writer/director Winterbottom has given us such idiosyncratic comedies as 24 Hour Party People and the powerful dramas Welcome to Sarajevo and A Mighty Heart. He's a maverick talent in the cross-wired vein of Ken Loach and Julien Temple. But his willingness to experiment is occasionally a weakness, as evinced by the dreadful 9 Songs – live footage of Franz Ferdinand spliced with unsimulated sex scenes, what could possibly go wrong? - and the meandering Everyday.

Filmed sporadically over five years, it strives to examine the impact of the British penal system on a prisoner and his wife, portrayed by John Simm and Shirley Henderson. The action, such as it is, is divided between home and prison, as Henderson struggles to raise their four kids – portrayed by actual siblings – while awaiting her husband's release.

Incarcerated for an unspecified crime, he lives for their staggered visits. Watching his kids grow up in fits and bursts, he hears about missed Christmasses and birthdays, offers banal enquiries - “How's school?”, “Have you been good?” - and, whenever they're out of earshot, expresses to his wife his sexual frustration. And that's about it.

Shot in grainy pseudo-documentary style, it certainly captures the loneliness, angst and monotony of such an existence. But Winterbottom's dogged unwillingness to impose any dramatic embellishments on his deliberately spare and repetitive saga results in a film almost entirely composed of the boring bits we wouldn't normally see. I appreciate what he's trying to do, but it's like staring at a stranger's home movies.

Henderson and Simm are fine actors, but they can't do much with such thinly-sketched characters. As for the conceit of filming over five years, the only vaguely noticeable result is that the seasons change and the children age. But so what? Was that really worth the time and effort?

Possibly aware that his experiment wasn't working, Winterbottom attempts to broaden the canvas with painterly landscapes (Henderson and co conveniently live near picturesque fields and woodlands) that contrast heavy-handedly with the claustrophobia of Simm's cell. And Michael Nyman provides a pastoral score that tries in vain to make the film feel more profound than it actually is.

Even the most forgiving (gritty) BAFTA voter would struggle to stay awake during this well-intentioned misfire.

Incidentally, I'm aware that my opening analogy implies that Kevin Bishop has been responsible for at least two funny sketches in his career, rather than the paltry one. But I think you'll find that technically a stopped clock is right only once a day, equivalent to the time that it originally expired. Believe me, I'm tremendous fun at pub quizzes.

The first series of Abi Morgan's '50s period thriller THE HOUR was flawed, implausible and naggingly anachronistic, but as a piece of winningly performed, suspenseful entertainment, it ticked along quite effectively. But with its threads tied up in the final episode, it felt like a self-contained piece unburdened by the need for a sequel. So where can it go from here?

It's 1957 and, against the increasing tumult of the Cold War, our crusading BBC news team face fresh competition from an ITV rival. Hector is now a complacent star, Bel is undermined by her superiors, and maverick journalist Freddie returns from his travels with an unconvincing bohemian beard (that's not a euphemism). Meanwhile, crime is on the rise in London, but the government are more concerned with pumping money into the nuclear arms race.

Dominic West, Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw are as solid as ever, and Peter Capaldi is a welcome addition as the taciturn new Head of News. But there's little in the first episode to suggest that another bout of The Hour is entirely necessary.

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