Film The Announcement was like a life raft filled with jewels in the endless brown sea that is BBC Three. Written and staring Morweena Banks (who made her name on that formerly luckless channel Five), this was The Big Chill directed by Robert Altman thru the Dogme 95 aesthetic. A group of life long friends gather in a spacious house in Hammersmith for a party only to be told that two of their number, Banks and Toby Stephens (in a more sedate mode that he demonstrated in the latest Bond film) have secretly been married. As the bombshell sinks in the implications on the lives of the other couples and singles in attendance begin to unravel over the twelve hours we are with them.

The cast was filled with recognizable faces featuring amongst others Fay Ripley, Todd Hollander, Gordon Kennedy, David Baddiel and Mark Addy. As with Altman they’re cast for their familiarity. None are really playing characters too far from what we usually see them in, but this allows Banks script to hit the round running. But the real joy is chemistry. In the opening scene as all of the character crowd around the table in the tiny kitchen, drinking and smoking, there is a chemistry and familiarity which is missing too many times in other dramas.

But most impressively within the few minutes we have with these characters it’s very easy to care for them. Partly this has much to do with direction from Troy Miller (who’s current release is Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd – what are you doing mate?) and the raw camera work of Scott Marshall which dumped the viewer in he middle of everything. But cleverly every relationship type features and the viewer finds someone in there to sympathise with. And unlike some British relationship films it isn’t afraid to make them look like utter wankers some very bad things are said throughout, but they’re only taken seriously within the context of the conversations – they don’t become major plot points. There are a couple of slightly unbelievable moments (Baddiel can act! Todd Hollander not playing camp! That d├ęcor!) there were some excellent bits and pieces the even things out. Especially nice to see a mature handing of lesbianism for a change without any hint of witchcraft).

The line between television drama and film is blurred even more here. Although the piece was previewed as tv, the titles, the credits and the fact that it won 'Best International Feature' at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in September 2002 advises that it’s the latter and meant for theatrical release. There isn’t anything particular cinematic here though – it resembles in some respects the tidy suburbia of Hearts and Bones, the BBC’s Cold Feet rival of a few years ago. But the fact that it uses high end Digital Video (for the time – this was made in 2001) places it safely in the vanguard of being somewhere in between.

This is quality drama, intelligent, witty and interesting, but hardly sold at all, easily missable and lost on a digital channel (see also The Falklands War and Copenhagen). It’s another unfortunate example of the BBC tossing something magical into the pit of despair.

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