All Good Things – Simply Media DVD Review

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Broadcast in six episodes during May and June 1991, All Good Things by Lesley Bruce is a rather obscure piece of archive television, which given its cast-list – Brenda Blethyn, Warren Clarke, Ceila Imrie, Ron Pember, Jemma Redgrave, Ken Stott and Barbara Young amongst others – is a little surprising.

Lesley Bruce’s television credits aren’t too extensive (although she did contribute to popular drama strands such as Play for Today, Screenplay, Screen Two and Theatre Night).  We open with a married couple, Shirley Frame (Blethyn) and Phil (Clarke), who are seen arguing as they drive towards an unknown destination.  The reason for this isn’t made clear until Shirley opens the car door and we observe that she’s heavily pregnant.

Phil’s not keen about the baby’s impending arrival (their other children are now in their teens and he was looking forward to a little bit of peace and quiet – and possibly taking up a hobby, like the saxophone).  Shirley, en-route to the ante-natal class, admits – presumably for the first time – that she also doesn’t want the child (although they’ve left it far too late to do anything about this).

A sharp gear-change from comedy (Shirley’s rant is observed by all the other attendees of the ante-natal class who stare silently at her) to potential tragedy occurs when she suddenly collapses.  Is she going to lose the baby?  Well no, everything turns out fine – meaning that the scene feels a little forced and manipulative.  In drama there’s a sense that you have to “earn” moments like this, by developing your characters and the way they interact with each other.  If you just drop events casually into the narrative with no preparation it just doesn’t feel right.

But after this slightly shaky start, the opening episode – The Blessing – develops well.  Both Blethyn (b. 1946) and Clarke (1947 – 2014) were well established actors at the time and this is possibly why they’re able to quickly make Shirley and Phil seem like a real couple.  Although possibly the method of recording (All Good Things was an all-videotape production) also helped.  This was a style of television drama that (soaps apart) would vanish a few years later (from then on, drama tended to be shot either on film or tape processed to look like film) but it’s not a handicap here – videotape has an immediacy which film lacks, thereby giving the series something of a documentary “real” feel.

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With a gorgeous new baby, Shirley should be the happiest woman in the world, but she’s not.  “Sometimes I feel so lonely, and bored, and bad-tempered, I could scream and yell and tear my hair out in great huge hulking handfuls!”  So Shirley needs a new direction in her life, but what?

After a little consideration she decides to go and help people – there must be plenty who need help she reasons, they just have to be found.  Naturally she begins close to home, but things don’t go well after she makes a start with her mother, Hetty Snr (Barbara Young).  Hetty, still smarting from a painful divorce, is brought to tears after Shirley loses her temper and shouts at her.  Shirley’s attempts to help her sister-in-law Elaine (Jemma Redgrave) ends in much the same way, with Elaine left a sobbing mess.

Some people might possibly decide after this that being a Good Samaritan isn’t the wisest career move but Phil – always one to attempt to put a helpful spin on matters – suggests that maybe they didn’t respond because they were family.  He’s clearly only saying this to make her feel better, but she takes it to heart and it sets up the premise for the remaining episodes – Shirley will venture out into the world, meeting total strangers and attempting to fix their lives.  But given her lack of success so far (and the fact that her own life is far from perfect) what are her chances of success?

In The Suicide, Shirley prevents a young man, Vincent Gibney (John Lynch), from committing suicide. She wants to prove to Vincent that there’s still good in the world (something he doubts) and to this end she gives him her phone number, telling him that he can call on her anytime. The inevitable happens of course, Vincent arrives and makes himself at home (much to Phil’s growing exasperation). Once again there’s a sharp disconnect between Shirley’s hopes and the reality of the situation. Lynch is entertaining as Vincent, but once again it’s Blethyn who receives all the best lines. Here, she’s finally reached the end of her tether. “My God, I can see now why everyone else gave up on you! You’ve got to be the blindest, most self-regarding, insensitive wimp anyone’s ever dragged back from the edge of the parapet.”

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It might be expected that Vincent would vanish after this episode, to be replaced by a new poor soul for Shirley to look after next time. But that’s not the case as he’s present for the remainder of the series, as is Karen (Liza Hayden), who features in the next episode, Reading Lessons. This interconnectivity is a definite strength as it allows the narrative to become denser as the episodes tick by.  Karen’s another lost sheep who Shirley scoops up, but once again her good intentions seem to bring nothing but discord and discontent.

If Warren Clarke has been a little overshadowed so far, then that’s redressed somewhat in The Flat. Phil’s irritation that, thanks to Vincent and Karen, he can no longer call his house his own finally bubbles over. Clarke and Blethyn excel towards the end as they both consider the state of their marriage. Earlier, Jemma Redgrave and Ken Stott impress again as Elaine and Lawrence’s marriage continues to buckle under the strain.

In The Trip North, Shirley heads off for a bonding weekend with one of her sons (which, unsurprisingly has some rocky moments) leaving Phil at home holding the baby, literally.  I love the scene where Phil’s shaving, crooning Teddy Bear whilst holding baby Hetty at the same time. The baby clearly finds this fascinating! This leads onto a more dramatic scene where baby Hett’s facial expressions ensure that she remains the centre of attention. Never work with children or animals ….

The series concluded with Marriage Guidance. Whilst Shirley has expended all her energies into helping others, her own life has fractured (a bitter, if obvious, irony – something which is also spelled out visually in the opening credits). Phil’s relationship with Doll (Deborah Findlay) offers him peace and security – two things which are now in short supply at home. Doll and Phil are work colleagues and their affair has slowly developed over the course of the series as Shirley’s drive to help others has also increased.  Finally he elects to tell Shirley that he’s leaving her, but when it comes to the crunch will he have the guts to come right out and say it?

It’s a disquieting and bleak conclusion, which leaves the viewer free to decide what happened next. There was certainly scope for a second series to pick up where this one left off, but despite the excellent cast and generally strong writing, this was the end of the line for All Good Things.

Headed by Blethyn and Clarke, this is a series that certainly doesn’t lack on the acting front. The layered developing narrative is another plus and although it’s not always an easy watch, it is a rewarding one. With the emphasis more on drama than comedy, All Good Things is an interesting archive curio which I’m glad Simply have brought blinking out into the light.

All Good Things is released by Simply Media on the 28th of November 2016.

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All Good Things to be released by Simply Media – 28th November 2016

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All Good Things, originally broadcast in 1991, will be released by Simply Media on the 28th of November 2016.  Review here.

A marriage and home can be made complete with the arrival of a new baby, but Shirley Frame (Brenda Blethyn) feels a need to share her good fortune by going out into the world and helping others – driving husband Phil (Warren Clarke) up the wall.

Shirley Frame (39) gives birth to her third child and is over the moon. Intent on sharing her delight with the world she embarks on a plan to make life a better place for as many people as possible. Husband Phil and their two teenagers aren’t easily convinced.

Very quickly Shirley learns that it’s not easy being a Good Samaritan, especially in a world of tower blocks, drug abuse and homelessness, even if your own life is rosy. Shirley identifies a string of potential good causes, leaving Phil holding the baby as she tries and fails to fix the lives of others.

Whether coaxing a potential suicide from a watery grave, giving reading lessons to an illiterate young mum with an abusive husband, or trying her hand at marriage guidance, Shirley puts her foot in it at every good turn – and invariably brings other people’s problems too close to home for comfort.

Joining double Oscar nominee, BAFTA and Golden Globe winner Blethyn (Secrets & Lies, Little Voice) and the ever-dependable Clarke (Dalziel & Pascoe, Nice Work) in this 1991 BBC six-parter are Celia Imrie, Jemma Redgrave and Ken Stott, who were all on track to become equally well-loved household names.

Screenwriter Lesley Bruce’s TV credits also include Doctor Finlay, Lizzie’s Pictures, The Practice and Home Video.

Now on DVD for the first time, this is a wry comedy of errors about losing the plot while attempting to mend the ways of life’s ne’er-do-wells and no-hopers.

Sleepers – Simply Media DVD Review

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Back in the mid 1960’s, Russian spymaster Andrei Zorin (Michael Gough) sent two Soviet moles to Britain.  As “sleeper” agents, their mission was to assimilate themselves into British society and await further orders.  But those orders never came ….

Fast-forward twenty five years and the two agents, Sergei Rublev (Nigel Havers) and Vladimir Zelenski (Warren Clarke), have gone native so successfully that they’re now indistinguishable from the real thing.  Both have flourished in the capitalist West  – Rublev, today known as Jeremy Coward, is a successful investment banker whilst Zelenski, now going under the name of Albert Robinson, is a happily married man with three children, holding down a job in a Manchester brewery.

The last thing they want to be reminded of is their murky Soviet past, but when Albert’s secret Soviet radio suddenly starts transmitting it seems to spell the end of their British adventure.  Albert contacts Jeremy (the pair hadn’t met since parting shortly after their arrival in the UK) and together they ponder their next move.  But the arrival of the hardline Major Nina Grishina (Joanna Kanska) spells further trouble for our two hapless heroes …

Broadcast across four episodes during April and May 1991, Sleepers is a fondly remembered comedy drama by John Flanagan and Andrew McCullough.  Flanagan and McCullough continue today to hold down dual jobs as actors and writers (both took the opportunity to act in Sleepers).  Their first joint writing credit was the 1980 Doctor Who story Meglos and they would go on to contribute to a number of popular series such as Robin of Sherwood, Boon, Pie in the Sky and Peak Practice..

Much of the appeal of Sleepers rests upon the performances of Nigel Havers and Warren Clarke.  Havers (b. 1949) had built up a solid list of credits throughout the 1970’s, but it would be during the 1980’s – with films such as Chariots of Fire and diverse television series like Don’t Wait Up and The Charmer – that he’d really become established as a leading actor.

Clarke (1947 – 2014) was incredibly busy during the 1970’s and 1980’s, racking up an impressive list of appearances in both films and television series (A Clockwork Orange,  The Sweeney, The Onedin Line, Minder, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, Reilly: Ace of Spies, The Jewel in the Crown, etc etc) without ever really becoming a leading man – that would come later with Dalziel and Pascoe (1996 – 2007).

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It’s the contrast between Rublev/Coward and Zelenski/Robinson which really appeals.  One was sent up North and the other established himself in the South.  There’s the lovely possibility that if Jeremy had gone to Manchester then he’d be speaking like Albert now and vice-versa.  That might have been interesting to hear, but it was probably safer that both actors played to type!

Back in 1991, the Cold War was definitely thawing, which meant that many spy stories began to look backwards to the good old days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This sense of past glories is touched upon in the opening episode, The Awakening, after a secret room beneath the Kremlin is found to contain a replica of an English town. Covered in cobwebs, it’s a perfect time capsule of the mid sixties. As the power is restored, a record player springs back into life with She Loves You by The Beatles playing, whilst Adam Adamant Lives! flickers into life on a tiny black and white television.

Such a construction may seem far-fetched, but there’s evidence to suggest that such places existed and were invaluable in training agents (plenty of examples can be found in fiction, from the Danger Man episode Colony Three to the Jack Higgins novel Confessional).

Quite how this ghost town was suddenly discovered or why Nina and Oleg PetrovskI (Christopher Rozycki) are so interested in it is a bit of a mystery. If it was a training ground for an operation decades ago, why should it be important now? Nina visits Zorin, but he’s nothing more than the shell of a man – babbling about 1960’s popular culture (quoting from A Hard Day’s Night and the Billy Cotton Band Show).

The gorgeous Joanna Kanska is suitably intimidating as the ice-cold KGB Major Nina Grishina . Arriving in Britain, she heads off to speak to Victor Chekhov (David Calder), their man in London. Calder essays a fairly broad performance as possibly not the most convincing Russian ever. For some reason he seems to have more of an American accent than a Russian one.

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Nina and Victor couldn’t be more different. Victor considers that the Cold War is well and truly over and so asks both the CIA and MI5 for their assistance. Nina is horrified (to her, both are still the enemy) but involving both the Americans and British helps to ramp up the comedy. This is particularly evident with the cash-strapped MI5, where even fairly low-key expenses (a meal at Burger King) are examined very closely. In future the agent is advised to “stick to coffee. I want a bit less of these flame-grilled Whoppers.”

Once Albert and Jeremy meet up, the story can really start. Albert doesn’t want to return to Russia since he can’t bear the thought of being parted from his wife and children. Jeremy might not be married but he’s got plenty of good reasons to want to stay as well. “I’m on 300 grand a year. I’ve got a flat in town, a cottage in the country, a string of girlfriends and half a bloody racehorse. Think I’m going to give it all up for a bowl of red cabbage and a bedsit in Vladivostok?”

It’s undeniable that the plot is a little contrived in places, this is never more evident than when Albert and Jeremy decide to chuck the radio transmitter in the river and then do a Cossack dance to celebrate. After they’re arrested by the police, Jeremy tells the constable that they’re the Moscow State Circus (!). It’s difficult to believe that two trained (albiet very rusty) agents would behave so rashly, especially by mentioning Russia.

Sleepers sets up various mysteries, such as why Albert and Jeremy were in the crowd at the 1966 World Cup final. It’s amusing that the Russian archive film shows the disputed England goal at quite a different angle, something which Chekhov decides he can turn to his advantage. But British Intelligence, who are monitoring him, get quite the wrong end of the stick and decide that it’s all part of a Moscow plan to destabilise British society with the help of football hooligans!

As might be expected with a spy story, not everything in Sleepers is quite as it first appears, something which becomes very apparent in the closing episodes, whilst various running gags – such as Boris, a toy monkey owned by Albert’s daughter – also help to enliven proceedings. And whilst the serial may have a comic feel, there’s also various dramatic beats scattered throughout the four episodes – these are used to break down the facades that Albert and Jeremy have built around themselves.

Ironically, Albert’s not good at keeping secrets. His wife instantly senses that something is wrong, although she jumps to the conclusion that he’s having an affair. Clarke is excellent as the conflicted Albert, as is Havers as the apparently more confident Jeremy. But Jeremy too is racked by doubts as his past returns to haunt him.

Sleepers is a confident comedy thriller which features British, American and Russian intelligence agents all chasing different agendas, some of which are completly illusionary. With the luxury of four episodes it has the time to develop character and incident at a leisurely pace, although it never feels drawn out.

Sleepers is released by Simply Media on the 24th of October 2016. RRP £19.99.

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The Justice Game – Simply Media DVD Review

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Dominic Rossi (Denis Lawson) is a Glasgow-based criminal lawyer with a thriving practice.  At present his attention is scattered in several different directions – the stabbing of an elderly man at a bus stop, an ex-soldier accused of multiple murders and the death of a private investigator whom he’d recently employed.  But he finds that all of these disparate crimes lead to Tim Forsythe (Michael Kitchen), a merchant banker who’s keen that Rossi should cease his investigations.  And since Forsythe has the intimidating Glen (James Cosmo) on his books, it seems that his silence will be rather permanent.

Airing on BBC1 during April 1989, The Justice Game is an efficient four-part thriller from the pen of John Brown (1944 – 2006).  The previous year Brown had written the well-remembered ITV serial The One Game, which featured Patrick Malahide as a manipulative games player.  Brown would go on to contribute scripts to a number of popular series such as Bergerac, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Inspector Morse and Taggart.

Denis Lawson (b. 1947) made his television debut in a 1969 episode of Dr Finlay’s Casebook and during the 1970’s was busy working across film, television and theatre.  One of his early film roles, in the original Star Wars (and then its two sequels), would ensure he would always maintain a certain cult status but it would be two very different 1980’s television roles that would establish him more firmly with the British public.  Dead Head (1986) was a BBC serial which attracted a huge amount of newspaper notoriety at the time, although thirty years on it seems rather tame.  The Kit Curran Radio Show featured Lawson as the eponymous radio presenter and whilst not a huge ratings-winner, ran for two well-received seasons.

In addition to Lawson, Kitchen and Cosmo, there’s a host of other quality actors who appear across the four episodes (Diana Quick, Iain Cuthbertson, Russell Hunter, Joss Ackland, Michael Culver and Ceila Imrie).

The first episode quickly establishes Rossi’s character.  He’s a man of contradictions – after a session working out on a treadmill his first thought is to reach for a pack of cigarettes.  We also observe his skills as a lawyer (he manages to get two prominent footballers off an assault charge).  The Amnesty poster on his office wall and his desire to take low-profile cases connected to social justice issues are clear pointers to his values and mindset.  Rossi is in a relationship with Kate Fielding (Diana Quick).  Like him she’s a professional (Kate’s a doctor).

It’s a pity that an actor as good as Russell Hunter exits the story relatively quickly.  He played Sandy Sadowski, a man who had information for Rossi but was brutally stabbed multiple times before he could pass it over.  John Brown is in no hurry to connect all the pieces of the puzzles he sets up, as with four episodes to play with there’s plenty of time to establish these various plotlines.  The well-dressed Tim Forsythe is a man of few words, but several are directed in the direction of Glen who organised the gang that killed Sadowski.

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Throughout the serial Denis Lawson impresses.  Dominic Rossi’s clearly something of a renaissance man, he’s not only a hot-shot, fast-talking lawyer but he can also belt out a mean rock ‘n’ roll tune (as witnessed at his parents wedding anniversary party).  The choice of Glasgow as the battleground was a good one.  Although the Glasgow-based Taggart had been running for a number of years, the location still offers a less familiar milieu than London. The last episode also makes a quick trip to New York as Rossi trails the money men behind Forsythe. Lurking in New York is Sir James Crichton (Joss Ackland). Ackland is characteristically still and sinister as the spider in the middle of the web.

The late eighties setting, deep in the dying days of Thatcherism, helps to inform the tone of the serial.  At the time Glasgow, like many other cities, was undergoing considerable redevelopment and renovation.  The first episode opens with Rossi taking Kate on a tour of his old house, located in one of the most run-down areas of the city.  But since the house has been demolished, Rossi contents himself with pointing at the bare ground where the various rooms had been.  Displaying a tinge of romanticism shared by many self-made men and women, he regrets the loss.

It’s hoped that something better will take the place of these levelled slums, but the likes of Tim Forsythe seem more interested in generating the maximum amount of profit for the company he works for.  Despite the fact that Forsythe remains a fairly nebulous figure (henchmen such as Glen do all the strong-arm stuff, leaving him distanced from the action) there’s a clear delineation between Rossi and Forsythe.  Rossi is concerned with people and justice whilst Forsythe is concerned only with profit.  Certain reminders of the era – mobile phones as big as housebricks, Forsythe’s cocaine habit – help to make it the perfect story for the consumerist eighties.

Roger Limb’s score sometimes eschews the familiar radiophonic soundscape he was well-known for. But it’s still atmospheric and the more sinister cues help to create a vague sense of unease which compliments the sometimes bleak and violent world presented across the four episodes.

The Justice Game is probably an episode too long and rather wastes good actors such as Iain Cuthbertson in small roles, but it still chugs along nicely to its inevitably bloody conclusion. As might be expected from the cynical worldview it presents, we find that “justice” is in very short supply.

The following year, the three-part Justice Game 2 was broadcast on BBC1 during March 1990.  The serial opens with Rossi in Italy, enjoying a holiday romance with the lovely Francesca (Anita Zagaria).  Rossi’s considering a career change – from lawyer to advocate – and this holiday was supposed to help him make up his mind, although he remains noncommittal by the end of it. I like the way the first scene has a number of quick cuts, showing Rossi and Francesca enjoying themselves in various different ways (driving an open-top car, him rubbing suncream into her back, riding a pedalo, riding bikes, eating icecream). It’s slightly corny, but it works.

Rossi returns to Glasgow and Francesca quickly becomes a fading memory, so he’s surprised (but pleased) when she unexpedically turns up. She’s a woman with a secret though. Back in Italy several of her friends have met violent deaths and the killings don’t stop when she travels to Scotland – meaning that Rossi’s right in the firing line.

There have been a few changes since the first story. Rossi’s moved into an impressive, if crumbling house (complete with a leaky roof) and has gained a new colleague, Eleanor Goodchild (Barbara Flynn). Flynn, as ever, is wonderfully watchable as the powerful Eleanor. She may only be Rossi’s junior partner but is she part of the reason why he’s considering a career change? Some have dubbed her “a female Dominic Rossi” which amuses him. He certainly seems to be going through something of a mid-life crisis (he picks up a prostitute in a bar, although it appears he wasn’t charged for her services).

Even though this serial is an episode shorter than the first, it still takes its time to get started. There’s action in the first episode – several bloody deaths – but these take place in Italy whilst Rossi’s back in Glasgow and yet to connect to this main plot. But the death of a young man (a potential client for Rossi) in a suspicious hit-and-run accident adds another layer to the narrative and also reconnects Rossi to the seamier side of life (something rather alien to the upwardly mobile lifestyle he’s been recently enjoying).

Justice Game 2 is slightly less satisfying than the first serial. Barbara Flynn and Denis Lawson have a good combative relationship, but this could have been developed a little more. Anita Zagaria works well as the lady with a dark secret, it’s just a shame this part of the story is rather stretched out.

But although it’s slightly inferior when compared to The Justice Game, it’s still a stylish thriller, held together by Lawson’s central performance. Both serials have a nice period feel (late eighties, early nineties) and if there’s the odd lull from time to time, you can be sure that another shock or twist is just round the corner to spice things up.

The Justice Game (containing both series) is released by Simply Media on the 10th of October 2016.  The picture quality is a little grainy, which isn’t too surprising considering that the source materials are unrestored 16mm film prints which are nearly thirty years old, but there’s no particular issues.  RRP is £19.99.

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Little Sir Nicholas to be released by Simply Media – 10th October 2016

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Little Sir Nicholas will be released by Simply Media on the 10th of October 2016.  Review here.

Based on the classic children’s novel by Cecilia Anne Jones, Little Sir Nicholas is a gripping Victorian saga about blood rights, identity and family rivalries. This six-part BBC adaptation co-written by and featuring Oscar winner Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), arrives on DVD on 10 October 2016.

It has long been the destiny of the sons of the Tremaine family to serve as officers in the Royal Navy, but this tradition seems doomed when Sir Walter Tremaine, his wife and their four-year-old son Nicholas (Max Beazley – Maigret) are lost at sea in a wild storm. Five years on, Lady Tremaine (Rachel Gurney – Upstairs, Downstairs), still stricken by the loss of her son and grandson, advertises across the country for a distant heir to come forward.

Penniless Londoner Joanna Tremaine (Bernice Stegers – Undercover) is thrilled when her son Gerald (Jonathan Norris) is chosen to inherit the family title and fortune. But just as they settle into a life of luxury, Little Sir Nicholas is found alive and well in a small coastal French village.

 

Go Now – Simply Media DVD review

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Everything seems to be going Nick Cameron’s (Robert Carlyle) way, especially when his relationship with Karen Walker (Juliet Aubrey) begins to blossom.  But there are dark, dark clouds on the horizon.  He begins to experience feelings of numbness and double vision, and shortly afterwards he receives the bombshell that he has multiple sclerosis.

In a flash his whole world changes.  As his physical energy diminishes, Kevin angrily lashes out of those around him – especially Karen, who also has to make a dramatic adjustment (from girlfriend to carer).  She becomes unable to reach the man she fell in love with and so faces a dilemma – should she walk out and start a new life, or stand by this shell of a man?

Go Now eschews the sentimentality often to be found in dramas which tackle illness, instead it offers something much more direct and honest.  This may be partly due to the input of co-writer Jimmy McGovern (a man who has in the past contemptuously labelled other dramas dealing with similar topics ‘wheelchair plays’).  But the influence of the other writer, Paul Henry Powell, shouldn’t be underestimated.

Powell, a MS sufferer, had started writing the script based directly on his own experiences.  McGovern, who was running a writer’s workshop that Powell was attending, agreed to work with him to develop the story.

Although the basic synopsis makes it sound very depressing, the play is shot through with streaks of humour.  But what really impresses throughout the piece are the emotional ups and downs that both Nick and Karen go through.   Both Robert Carlyle and Juliet Aubrey offer outstanding performances.

Carlyle, who had already starred as the unstable killer Albie in McGovern’s Cracker serial To Be A Somebody, commands the screen.  And it’s when Nick’s physical abilities decline that his performance really comes into his own, as it requires him to express a host of emotions with am increasingly limited set of visual signals.

Aubrey is no less impressive.  That she turned down a big movie role (First Knight, opposite Richard Gere and Sean Connery) in order to appear in Go Now is an interesting revelation (no doubt a move that wouldn’t have pleased her agent).  Her commitment to the piece is obvious to see – especially in the scene towards the end when Karen, refusing to heed Nick’s pleas to leave him, waits patiently outside in the pouring rain for him to change his mind.

Whilst Carlyle and Aubrey are central, there are also impressive contributions from James Nesbitt (Tony) and Sophie Okenedo (Paula) and Michael Winterbottom’s direction is pretty much faultless.

A co-production between the BBC and PolyGram, it received a limited theatrical distribution and would go on to pick up a number of awards (it won the Prix Europa Television Programme of the Year 1995 whilst Powell and McGovern collected the Royal Television Society’s Best Writer award in 1996).

At times bleak and uncompromising, Go Now is best summed up by this comment from Juliet Aubrey.  “It’s a big love story with a huge heart, a lot of humour, a lot of passion and a lot of pain”.  Twenty years on it remains a powerful work which lingers in the memory long after the credits have rolled.

Go Now is released by Simply Media on the 12th of September 2016 with an RRP of £19.99.  £1.00 from the sale of each DVD will donated to the MS Society.

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Casualty

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It’s slightly staggering to realise that Casualty has been running for thirty years (just exactly where have the last three decades gone?).  It’s longevity is quite an achievement, as is the fact that it still pulls in a regular audience of around five million, but it’s fair to say that whilst it’s become a British television institution, the series has ended up as television wallpaper (myself, I bailed out as a regular viewer some twenty years ago).

This wasn’t always the case though – when it started in 1986, Casualty was a show that burned with crusading zeal.  Jeremy Brock and Paul Unwin were inspired to create the series after they’d both been hospitalized.  Brock and Unwin were dismayed with what they found – doctors and nurses crushed under an unforgiving system, battling too much bureaucracy and having to work miracles with too little money.

This came over clearly in their series pitch and helped to reinforce just how polarised the 1980’s were.  For many people it was a simple choice, you were either for Margaret Thatcher and her policies or against.  Casualty was firmly against and politics would feature heavily in the first few series, thanks in part to the young firebrand Charlie Fairhead (Derek Thompson).

Just as Casualty’s rough edges have been smoothed off over the years, so have Charlie’s (which makes revisiting the first series something of an eye-opener).  Medical dramas had been a staple of television for decades (Emergency Ward 10, General Hospital, Angels) but the early Casualty episodes offered the audience a glimpse into a more visceral and politicised medical world.

This biting agenda couldn’t last and by the early 1990’s the show had already begun its transformation into a more conventional soap opera.  A sign of how comfortable Casualty had become by the time it celebrated it’s tenth anniversary is demonstrated by comparing its mid 1990’s output against Cardiac Arrest (1994 – 1996).  Written by Jed Mercurio, Cardiac Arrest is the blackest of black comedies – it has something of the feel of early Casualty, but Mercurio pushed further to create a nightmarish vision that uncomfortably might very well be true.  Mercurio’s status as a former doctor suggests that he knew exactly where the bodies were buried.

This weekend’s thirtieth anniversary episode, Too Old for This Shift, had a stunning set-piece stunt although for impact it didn’t rival Boiling Point (original tx 27th February 1993).   Maybe it was a different era, but when a gang of disaffected youths decided to firebomb the A&E department for no good reason it touched a nerve amongst sections of the viewing public (the debate seemed to resonate for a while).

It might not be the series it once was, but the fact it remains as one of the fixed points in an ever-changing television age is reason enough to celebrate.  Happy Birthday Casualty.

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