Did we like it?
An excellent drama; succulent with dramatic poise, superb acting and a grander sociological statement that only rarely poked its nose in on the sublime script.
What was good about it?
• A brilliant cast. Alun Armstrong, Alison Steadman and Rupert Graves are all reliably fine actors and their performances were predictably superb. As was George Cole’s cameo as Armstrong’s despairing father.
• Jessie Wallace provided more evidence she has jumped the species barrier from soaps to drama; a tricky transition given that the journey is almost as difficult to make as Foot and Mouth from livestock to humans (and it’s just a pity there isn’t a compulsory slaughter of all soap characters).
• Lee Evans was by turn likeable and dislikeable as IT worker Leo who was cor-rupted by Roger’s (Rupert Graves) offer to treble his salary and throw in a company car if he came to work for him.
• And Elizabeth Berrington as The Shrew offered some judicious sour-faced scorn to pour over all the selfish machinations that went on amid the senseless dinner party chatter. And the idea of calling her The Shrew, even in the credits, was an inspired moment of surrealism in the drab stolidity of this corroding suburbia.
• The dinner party in question was the birthday celebrations of poor boy made good Roger whose sole purpose was to flash his nauseous opulence to his next-door-neighbours and ‘best friends’ Jim (Armstrong) and Juliet (Steadman) and to inveigle newcomers Leo (Evans) and Jackie (Wallace) in a kind of spi-der/fly/parlour scenario.
• One of the many marvellous interweaving plot strands was watching Jim and Juliet being shoved out of Roger’s life in favour of the bright new things around the corner. As socialist Jim pleaded with Roger to buy a new batch of photocopiers from him (and save his company from liquidation), he was brutally ditched as Roger gave a guided tour to Leo and Jackie to tempt them with what the riches of amoral capitalism could bring them.
• Juliet, too, was harshly discarded. Before the dinner party she was shown as consciously flirting with the brazen Roger, but he meticulously over the course of the evening gave her the death of a thousand cuts. After Jim had insulted Roger he said that he and Juliet could no longer be his and The Shrew’s badminton partners. “But you loved me in my badminton skirt,” she pleaded. “Ten years ago,” he replied.
• The Shrew’s acidic dismantling of Roger’s overblown machismo. On their sex life she dripped: “We’re once a week. Sunday nights after Heartbeat.” Lucifer wasn’t so damned when he Fell; the implication that Roger’s libido was only aroused after the hour of shattering somnolence of Heartbeat captured his character in just one simple phrase.
• The moment when Roger asks Leo about what he is like as a person and Leo robotically reels off his CV in that horrible, perky, mechanical language that appears on everyone’s CV which strips them of all humanity and reduces their existence to that of a Swiss-made toaster only able to perform a series of functional functions that can be covered on two sheets of A4 paper.
• Even the smaller details were perfect. The meal was served in those famishing portions only ever seen on cookery programmes where the host speaks in a soft voice, in snooty restaurants or meals prepared by anyone brainwashed to become an acolyte of Jamie Oliver. Piddling little morsels that look like they’ve dripped from the jaws of a salivating rhino, only far less appetising.
• While in the background anodyne classical music played. And while some people do genuinely like classical music even though it has no emotional depth, it’s often the Red Square March of aspiring snobs who relentlessly parade the works of Mozart or Handel through their houses when ‘entertaining guests’ to exhibit their ascent to the chattering classes.
• And the title music (Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks) evoked images of a curly haired troubadour plucking an acoustic guitar around some 60s hippy festival while the drugged-up liberals exchanged vain views on how they would change the world. They could never achieve something so grand – their fate, like the fate of so many other delusionists, is to watch their existences rot away around a polished table, underpaid servants pouring their wine while a capitalist Lord of Misrule pulls their puppet strings.
• The farcical comedy of the denouement. After The Shrew revealed she had ‘pleasured’ Jim in his back garden, Roger flew into a rage and was on the verge of strangling her when he saw out of the corner of his eye that his safe was empty and the cash stolen, and missing money is far more important than an unfaithful wife.
• Enraged and thinking Jim had fleeced him, Roger hilariously chased Jim around his swimming pool armed with a medieval broadsword. Unable to catch him, Roger instead set about Jim’s beloved tree only for Jim’s father (George Cole) to reveal that it was Roger’s son Douglas who had taken the money so he could run away with his pregnant girlfriend, Lucy – Jim’s daughter. Now it was Jim’s turn to fly into a fury and he chased Roger around armed with the sword.
• The epilogue saw Jim and Juliet reunited by their ‘love’ for one another. But this wasn’t a happy ending; their embrace was fuelled by entrenched middle-aged inertia that saw them unable to get out after their escape routes – job security and an affair with a wealthy man – were cut off.
• Peculiarly, even without the attempted decapitations, it resembled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre rather than a genteel modern drama – as the spoilt, inbred, incorrigible residents reverted back to their blind bliss, largely unaffected by the events. But the wavering ‘youngsters’ Leo and Jackie made their get away by selling their house and returning to London, while Douglas and Lucy (who was locked away in her room for most of the time by her ashamed mother) also fled a life of intangible mediocrity.
What was bad about it?
• Rupert Graves was magnetic as Roger, but he sporadically would say or do something grotesquely outrageous as if to remind the audience to hate him, such as overt racism – “Don’t mention those mooz-lims to me!” – which appeared as a cumbersome effort to demonstrate to moron viewers what a really, really bad person he was.
• And we never could quite decipher the point of making Roger a Barnado’s boy. Was it his belief that he had hauled himself up from the very bottom of the social pile that this gave him the right to spit on anybody he had passed on the way up?