The Films I've Watched This Year #47

Film Attachments isn't available other than through about ten episodes released on VHS over a decade ago. I never did track down Midsummer Dream or the short film Running for River. But apart from that #garaiwatch is done, completed, finish and until Suffragette is released, as I sit down to watch a film or some television it will be with the disappointment of knowing that Romola does not feature somewhere.  I'm hoping to go and see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies tomorrow.  I'm almost expecting her wander through playing an Elf.  Was it worth it?  It's fair to say that without her participation I may not have made time for Words of the Blitz in which she quotes, like the other participants directly to camera, from the diaries of a survivor Joan Wyndham, whose vivid descriptions of trying to maintain some semblance of a normal existence amid the bombs, really underscored for me just how important life is and why you should make the most of it.  Or the fascinating Russia's Lost Princesses (a rare voice over).  So yes, if only for those, yes it has been worth it.

Blitz was broadcast in 2010, right between Emma, which was covered last time and The Crimson Petal and the White, the 2011 BBC adaptation of Michael Faber's 2002 which isn't easy to love.  Garai is a Victorian prostitute who takes advantage of the attentions of an industrialist, a gloriously serpentine Chris O'Dowd, in order to shift herself from the squalor of the Dickensian undercity.  However extraordinary the performances, and Romola's pretty much a cameleon here in a role entirely unlike anything she'd done until that point, and how, I felt a tension in the adaptor not quite being sure whose story is being told or how to structure it.  Glancing at a synopsis of the book just now, I can see that it's more about the parallel stories of the two women in O'Dowd's character's life, the other being his frail wife.  Perhaps it might have benefited from giving just one of them the majority of the agency.  On the upside, it means Romola can add to theoretically non-canonical Doctors, Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who night sketch) and REG (Shalka) to her tally.

Of course, The Hour adds a whole bonafide, unarguable Doctor in her soon to be predecessor in the role Peter Capaldi.  One of the great tragedies of The Hour, other than the BBC's unwillingness to have everyone back for a couple more so they could resolve some of the storylines, is that it didn't manage to properly find an audience.  Like Party Animals and the like before it, this was British television attempting to offer something other than the same old tired genres, succeeding brilliantly but not finding enough viewers interested in watching this kind of drama to justify its existence.  At which point the very viewers who failed to watch it then complain about seeing the same old tired genres.  The second series isn't quite as good as the first to be fair, not managing to deal with shifting from what's a perfectly structured personal storyline in the first series to a moral crusade in the second.  None of which stops me from hoping Abi Morgan takes over as Doctor Who show runner in the future, not that she'd probably want to bother with it.

Garai's final, up to date credit on the imdb is for last year's drama contribution to the BBC's Cold War season Legacy in which she's  a spy who ultimately has little to do with the main plot other than provide the protagonist with some unrequited romantic interest and drive him around for a bit.  As I said last year, it's "like an episode of Spooks in which Harry's entered a coma and woken up in 1974 ala Life on Mars", not entirely unwatchable but mostly a reminder of when television used to broadcast this sort of play every week before deciding that if they were going to build all the sets they might as well get six episodes out of them, that working until the viewers lost interest anyway (see above).  On reflection, there's nothing about this which couldn't interestingly be turned into a series as well if the BBC had a mind to.  Which they don't lately (again see above).  Beyond this, Suffragette is in post-production as is Dominion, a $5m b/w, shot in Canada and Garai's been in New York on stage in Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink.

Which isn't where I stopped.  For the last couple of nights I went right back to the beginning of her screen career.  In the 2001 ITV drama, Perfect, Romola's adopted daughter goes in search of her mother only to find that she's Michelle Collins, a serial bigamist (yes, indeed).  Adapted from her own novel by Susan Oudot, it's about as early 00s as an ITV drama can be with contemporary musical cues borrowed from Cold Feet, Cathy Tyson as Collins's best friend and Barbara Flynn as Romola's adoptive mother.  It's quite a shock to see Romola wearing what would have been contemporary clothes for the time, black faux-goth t-shirts and denim skirts.  With the exception of Inside I'm Dancing, she wouldn't be seen in contemporary clothing on screen for most of the rest of her career.  Perhaps of most interest is how the tabloid journalists are portrayed in the scenes after the secret is out, prying and prowling, the drama suggesting this to be the norm, even though in reality they're simply turning ordinary people's lives into entertainment to fill the gaps between adverts.

Then I ended this escapade where she began in The Last of the Blonde Bombshells as the young Dame Judi Dench in flashbacks which reflect on her time in a jazz band during World War II, performing in just the sort of clubs Joan Wyndham refers to in the extracts Romola reads in Words of the Blitz.  Written by Alan Plater, directed by Gilles MacKinnon, the production design is from Michael Pickwoad, who currently fills that role on Doctor Who including the current TARDIS set.  It's a really charming old fashioned story about getting the band back together, with Ian Holm as the love interest and Leslie Caron, Olympia Dukakis, Cleo Laine, Billie Whitelaw, Joan Sims and June Whitfield as the "girls".  In other words if Romola was going to have an eye catching start to her screen career it would be this and although there's no sign that she even met any of the older cast members, she does at least get to keep her own voice.  Grant Ibbs who plays Ian Holm's younger self is ADRed over by the older actor.

Having You
Babysitting (short)
Whitelands (short)

Garai's current penultimate screen credit, Having You sees her in the familiar spot of the fiance of the protagonist in this case Andrew Buchanan's Jack, who discovers after eight years that his drunken one night stand with Anna Friel begat a son, which is complicated because it was a year after he'd begun his current relationship.  Directed by otherwise actor Sam Hoare (who played Douglas Camfield in An Adventure in Space and Time) (pretty much everything Romola's been in it seems has some Who connection it seems) (I'm going to be checking this now aren't I?) who also lensed the Garai starring short Babysitting (poor dog) its the sort of thing which would probably have been an itv drama in the early 00s with its tonally awkward lurches between middle class lounge comedy and harsh mellodrama, notably in the form of Phil Davis as the disappointed father who feels like he's wandered in from a 90s Mike Leigh film.  Not unenjoyable but feels dated, especially its gender politics for reasons too spoilery to explain and in a way Whitelands manages to avoid.

No comments: