If you ask how people in Manchester feel about the 1996 IRA bomb, you might be surprised to hear that some Mancunians think it was one of the best things to happen to the city. Delve a bit further, beyond what could be the legendary Manc bravado and swagger and you find out that the bomb (which injured 200 people – thankfully there were no fatalities) heralded a serious redevelopment of the city centre, modernising the city and helping it to become the bustling metropolis of shopping and entertainment it is today.
This sense of the event as a catalyst for change is key to Peter Bowker’s first episode of ‘From There to Here‘, which examines a feuding family caught up in the explosion. When we first meet Daniel Cotton (Philip Glenister), he, his brother Robbo (Steven Mackintosh) and their father Samuel (Bernard Hill) are conducting unsuccessful peace talks of their own in a bar before the shockwave blasts through the windows. As Daniel helps to evacuate cleaner Joanne (Liz White, reuniting with her Life on Mars co-star) from the building, it becomes clear that this clever and thoughtful series isn’t really about the bomb at all but rather about the times in life when we question who we are and what we’re doing.
As the episode progresses the story teeters on a delicate brink, towards which the characters are steadily drawn. Daniel finds himself enamoured by Joanne without really understanding why. Glenister’s understated performance brilliantly communicates this confusion – he’s a man caught between hope and…something not quite resembling despair. He’s trying to reunite his brother and father, whilst attempting to reconcile his own place in the world as he tries to come to terms with his close brush with death. There’s even a deliberate sense of this impending change in the period the characters inhabit. The Conservative Party are waning, one year away from a landslide election defeat to New Labour. England are actually playing well in Euro ’96 – anything seems possible.
Each character is spurred by this in their own journey, straddling the line between success and disaster, the painful past and the promising future: Robbo is on a self-destructive track but comes a penalty kick’s breadth from winning enough money to (temporarily) solve all his problems; the family business is offered a new lease of life by the next generation of the Cotton family, PFI fan Charlie (Daniel Rigby), but this is tempered by the audience’s hindsight of what the company’s financial salvation will most likely involve. That masterful manipulation of what the characters want versus what the audience already know works incredibly well throughout the episode. The tension of Robbo’s £10,000 accumulator is still very real, despite knowing that England will ultimately lose to Germany on penalties – we still somehow expect the outcome to change.
Yet all these nostalgic elements – including the excellent soundtrack (could it be anything else when set in Manchester in the 90’s? It’s arranged by way of Rob Da Bank with original material from I Am Kloot) – are secondary to the story that is being told about a family in desperate need of reconciliation. As everything else is in flux, their history seems to be holding them back. The strength of the writing and the performances mean that this will be a story you want to see unfold over the next two episodes, especially given the fact that we’re now not sure whether Daniel is going to survive to next week. Coincidentally, the next episode isn’t going to take place immediately after that seemingly inescapable cliffhanger but instead in will be set in 1997. A bold and telling decision that helps to signpost this original drama as one to watch and one to keep watching.
From There to Here Continues Thursday’s at 9.00pm on BBC ONE
Contributed by Jane Harrison