Television Unlike the rest of the population apparently, I actually watched the first series of This Life when it was originally broadcast (I'd loved the ad campaign featuring clips from the show) but didn't enjoy the second series quite as much. As Miles metafictionally noted during an interview in the +10 episode broadcast tonight, I just didn't think it was the same after Warren left so abruptly. So I was able to watch the reunion half with a nostalgia for the time of that broadcast and just some affection for the characters. And despite the reservations I voiced here, it was, as Warren might say, outstanding.

Perhaps deliberately using a model borrowed from The Return of the Sacarcus Seven, The Big Chill and Peter's Friends, Amy Jenkins fluid and florid script brought the characters together for a reunion in a very big house in the country after they reunited at the funeral of Ferdy, Warren's boyfriend who was a regular later on in the original series. This was an extremely good idea because it largely allowed the rekindling of what were always the most memorable of scene in the original series as the characters pottered about the house they shared.

Incredibly director Joe Aherne recreated the magic of the original although the camera work seemed a little less chaotic, perhaps because as Jack Davenport (Miles) noted in the 'making of' that followed the show, they were more aware of were the camera was going to be and could make sure their performance would show. Some of the lighting design was precise too, a barbeque in the grounds of the house looking like something from a Stephen Polikoff drama. The performances too were uniformally excellent and it's a credit to all the actors that despite having some really prominent other roles in the meantime that it took mere minutes for me to think of them as Egg, Milly, Miles, Warren and Anna again. I wasn't sure about Miles' wig though, that seemed wrong.

Rather than taking the easy option of simply building the story around explaining what has happened to the characters in the intervening years, that was largely dealt with in the first few minutes - Miles is in the stockmarket, the house is his and he's married to a Vietnamese wife; Anna's the only character whose still a lawyer but feels her biological clock ticking wanting children without having to deal with a man; Egg is a successful novelist but Milly has given up her career to look after the children and Warren is a life coach who still doesn't feel part of the group and can't understand why Miles hates him.

This was about the how and why rather than the what and like aforementioned films that inspired this, there wasn't anything too dramatic, not a lot of plot to speak of. Just lots of talking, lots of really great dialogue and a real warmth, a chemistry which shows that the actors themselves had much the same reunion experience making the show as the characters themselves. This led to a Before Sunset vibe in which you wondered just how much of the acting was actually acting (helped somewhat by the fact that like Ethan Hawkes' character Jesse in that film, Egg had written a book about his past experiences that mirrored just the thing that was being sequelled). The real success though was that it worked as its own internal drama -- seeing the original series would probably embellish the experience but this worked perfectly well as a stand alone piece.

This wasn't a continuity fest - quite rightly after ten years, the stories of the past weren't really referred to directly, no stirring up of the Dililah incident or Milly's dalliance with O'Donnell. Most of the unanswered questions from the cliffhanger ending of the series were apparently ignored, the viewer being left to fill in the blanks or able to retain the ideas they'd already been having all these years. It was a shame though that we didn't find out more about the significant secondary characters like Warren's sister Kira, Anna's work mate Jo and Miles's once fiance Rachel. But the creative decision here was to stick with the original five and it was probably the right one.

Which isn't to say that the old enmities and dalliances weren't repeated; these were certainly the characters we once knew. They had changed fairly logically to continue what the classic series did best - using this small group of characters to talk about what was happening to the rest of their generation. Poetically for example, Miles had realised that to get Anna he had to emasculate himself, financially and emotionally but still that wasn't enough - she chose Warren to help her with her baby. Similarly, Milly was experiencing a loss of identity in the face of motherhood.

Like Before Sunset this didn't really end on too much of a resolution. Milly and Egg were apparently back together, Warren had agreed to help Anna with her baby and Miles was disappearing off around the world. But it still didn't feel like the lives of the characters had somehow resolved. I for one would welcome a Will & Grace style spin-off featuring Warren and Anna or seeing what Miles found on his travels. But in that 'making of', all of the actors seemed to feel like this was a full stop rather than another comma, the end of the end. But I really think some of them had a glint in their eye. Give it ten years and perhaps +20 will be on our screens.

1 comment:

Graham Kibble-White said...

That really was Jack Davenport's hair. No-one's quite sure why he's grown it like that. But it's all for real!