Did we like it?
An exceptionally well-acted drama about… erm, well other than stamping along the well-trodden path of a young man flourishing among the more decadent denizens of London, we couldn’t really work out what it was about.
What was good about it?
• The acting was uniformly wonderful, principally Dan Stevens as protagonist Nick Guest, Dan Gilet as his lover Theo, Tim McInnerny as the impetuous MP Gerald Fedden and Alice Krige as his wife Rachel.
• But best of all was Hayley Atwell as Catherine Fedden, Gerald and Rachel’s capricious daughter who flits from caustic comments to bloody self-harm. Granted, she does have most of the best lines, especially when jousting verbally with the repressed Nick; but Atwell also made Catherine’s stark, barbed insults (which served to pierce the false aristocratic pretensions of the Tory classes) seem natural rather than the somewhat clumsy anti-Conservative propaganda they so clearly were supposed to be.
• Catherine evocatively describing to Nick her colour-coded states of depression.
• The 1983 soundtrack of New Order’s Blue Monday, The Stranglers’ Peaches and Duran Duran’s Planet Earth. But less welcome were Altered Images’ Happy Birthday and Spandau Ballet’s True.
• The misanthropic antiques dealer Pete, who has a stranglehold on Leo’s affections. In the few minutes he was on screen he became three-dimensional and human.
• Just as Timed-Out Tony Blair rampantly goose-steps his way to becoming the country’s most notorious fascist icon since Oswald Mosley, it was intriguing to gain an insight, however cock-eyed, into the previous contender for that crown who was at her peak in 1983.
What was bad about it?
• Even though Dan Stevens portrayed Nick with near flawless poise, this only masked the deficiencies in the character. Too little was disclosed about Nick’s origins, and whatever was revealed actually only confused the viewer with its contradictions. We learned Nick gained a first class degree from Oxford, and that his father runs an antique business in a Tory constituency in Northampton. This would lead the viewer to expect him to be of a privileged background, yet when he and best friend Toby arrived at the Fedden residence in Notting Hill, Nick was astounded by the opulent décor suggesting he wasn’t used to such splendour.
• And when Nick and Leo were courting in the pub, at first Nick seemed timid and unsure but as soon as the topic of sex came up he suggested they repair to the private park backing onto the Feddens’ street. Once there, Nick claimed he “hadn’t done anything like this before” (again, because of the lack of biographical detail we weren’t sure if this meant shagging in parks or that he was a virgin), but he whipped out a condom quick enough as he topped Leo, no questions asked.
• The apparent absence of a plot. It was only the acting and the interaction between some of the more well-drawn characters that kept our attention at times. Was the central theme about Nick coming to London and being free to find love in the more permissive capital? If so, it’s been done many times before. Was it about Nick being alienated from the high society he has been born in to because of what would be viewed as a ‘deviant’ sexuality, along with the racism and insensitivity shown as being inherent in Tories? Perhaps, but the sketchy etching of Nick made this a difficult narrative to drown in.
• The dissolution of the Tory classes was expressed with a vindictive heavy-handedness and consequently a number of peripheral characters were dumbly drawn as ciphers, while some scenes resembled Class War propaganda. MP Barry Groom was too overtly repellent to be truly hateful; he spouted capitalist nonsense to a non-plussed Nick before blowing smoke in his face and then racially abused Catherine’s guardian angel Brentford. And an American diplomat seemed to exist solely for the purpose of proclaiming how much money Reagan’s government were going to waste on weapons research. While Toby’s 21st birthday party was an exercise in noble debauchery as the youth spent all night humping on the lawn, or doing “charlie” while the adults sat in rigid refinement listening to classical music.