Film 2018: Local Hero


Local Hero was Bill Forsyth’s third film as writer and director and his first to move beyond working with the Scottish Youth Theatre (though the connection is not entirely forgotten, with John Gordon Sinclair and Caroline Guthrie having minor but amusing roles). It stars Burt Lancaster, in a typically graceful role, though the film actually belongs to the unlikely duo of Peter Reigert and Denis Lawson, the latter of whom doesn’t even get billed as a star.

Like Forsyth’s first two films, the story is about, and largely takes part in Scotland, in the fictional fishing village of Ferness on the West coast. Knox Oil, a big American company owned by Felix Happer (Lancaster), plans to build an oil refinery in the only suitable place, Ferness. ‘Mac’ Macintyre (Reigart), a skilled negotiator, is sent to buy the place, everything between both headlands and up to a mile inland.

Mac is your fish out of water, complaining from the outset at having to actually go to Scotland: he calls himself a telex man (seriously dating the film or what?) and that he could wrap up the deal in an afternoon by telex. In Aberdeen he finds local Know representative Danny Oldsen (a young and fresh-faced Peter Capaldi) wished upon him as an assistant. They also meet and admire, Oldsen especially, a marine biologist named Marina (Jenny Seagrove in a dark-blue swimsuit).

The pair drive westward to Ferness. Forsyth adds a Brigadoon touch, having the pair stuck in mist after hitting a rabbit with the car (Oldsen names it Harry, Mac Trudy, after his ex-, and whilst they think they’re nursing it back to health, they end up with it being served to them as Casserole de lapin). After a night in the car, in the mist, they wake to a beautiful coastline and clear air. The nod to the magical village, which is accessible only once a year, sets the tone for the externally idyllic village, set in a place of immense beauty, and gives us expectations that Forsyth will quickly puncture.

You see, this tine, enclosed village, this home to families whose roots in the land go back centuries, this backwater of peace and stillness, where people do all that’s needed and time ceases to be a concern, can’t wait for the Americans to buy them out and make them stinking rich.

That’s the central joke of the film, and one that negates the traditional tension that stories of this kind tend to portray. Mac and Oldsen book in to the hotel, run by Gordon (Lawson) and Stella Urquhart (Jennifer Black), a married couple with a healthy appetite for each other that, in keeping with Forsyth’s approach, is treated as a semi-comic, semi-admirable joke. Gordon also turns out to be the Chartered Accountant Mac’s here to negotiate with, playing things cool on behalf of the village, who all want the money: Gordon’s just doing everything he can to make sure that they squeeze out everything they realistically can, rather than undersell themselves.

But it all takes time, and that’s the point. Mac begins as the fish out of water, chafing at having to work to Scottish pace, with nothing realistically to do except to hang around and wait, and gradually let the atmosphere of Ferness seep into him. His problem becomes that Ferness is unspoiled, that he is there to spoil it irrecoverably, that he doesn’t want to see that happen, but that the villagers want it passionately.

Typically, Forsyth throws in a Russian fishing boat captain, Victor (Christopher Rozycki), a regular and celebrated visitor, not to mention a closet capitalist whose portfolio Gordon manages, to remind Mac that the villagers lead a hard life, that the money he represents is a godsend to them, making life incredibly easy for them, and that at the end of the day they have the right to make decisions for themselves. Mac remains troubled however. He even offers to swap lives with Gordon: Gordon can have Houston, the Porsche, the salary and the stocks, Mac will have Ferness. And Stella, of course, don’t forget Stella.

I’ll come back to Stella, and Marina, and Caroline Guthrie’s part, but the story demands a twist. We’ve been expecting all along, because there’s always one in real life, and stories like this demand one to make them into stories as opposed to still pictures, but with everything going swimmingly, Gordon discovers the hitch; the beach itself, four miles of seafront, is owned by old Ben, the beachcomber, Ben Knox to give him his full name. Ben is played by Fulton Mackay, the third named star, in gently obtuse bucolic manner. And Ben won’t sell. There has to be one.

Ben’s attitude is that he needs to work the beach for its benefit, and it is his living. The idea that the money he could make by selling it would make him secure for the rest of his life doesn’t seem to penetrate. Not need to work: We  all have to work, he chides, gently.

We’ve already had the nod to Brigadoon, and without being in any way explicit we’re being invited to see Ben in a mythical light too, a protector of the beach, its guardian. He’s not the only figure we’re invited to see in such a subtle light: Marina keeps popping up out of the water, in ankle to neck wet suit, appearing to the faithful and besotted Danny. She’s proposed a marine biology study for the bay, and is convinced Mac and Danny are there to study its financial aspects. Even after Danny confesses about the refinery, she’s blithely convinced it won’t happen. And, like the water goddess we’re meant to see her as, she has webbed feet.

Everything’s being set up for a fairy-tale ending. Mac has a second task, direct from Felix Happer himself. Happer’s obsessed with astronomy and his legacy (which is played on in an unfortunately weak and unfunny strand in which his psychiatrist practices humiliation therapy). He wants a comet to name after himself and wants Mac studying the skies in Scotland. Mac starts off ignorant and bemused, but ends ignorant and enthused by the sight of meteor showers and the Aurora Borealis, the latter of which triggers the film’s denouement.

Again, there’s a gentle hint towards the mythical. Ben’s refusal to sell threatens the whole deal. The villagers start to converge on his beach hut at eve: give them pitchforks and flaming torches and the place could be Castle Frankenstein. Something bad could happen, but not in this film. Enter Happer, Burt Lancaster, arriving by helicopter, literally the deus ex machina, which means ‘the God in the machine’.

Happer’s here to see the skies Mac has raved over, and to talk to Ben, Ben Knox. We don’t get to hear that talk but when Happer emerges, the onshore refinery is dead. An astronomical institute instead. The gangling Oldsen seizes his chance to push Marina’s proposal, inverting the whole prospect: a happy ending. Ferness will remain unspoiled, there’ll still be money in it, though we sense that that will be less all round than for the refinery. Oldsen will stay on with Happer to plan things, Mac is sent back to Houston. That day. Danny, the non-swimmer, commits an act of propitiation, swimming out to greet his goddess with the glad tidings of her worship (though she promptly dives beneath the water).

The ending is deliberately downbeat, with a comic twist that is never more than wry. Mac, who’s come to love Ferness, is wrenched away. We sense it will be his Brigadoon: once gone, he can never return. Clean-shave, suit-and-tie, refusing a private farewell with Stella, helicopter, plane, return to his empty, modern, cold apartment in the Houston night: it’s overbearingly miserable which makes the last touch – the Ferness phone box ringing unanswered, impliedly Macs call – too slight to overcome the melancholy.

It’s not that the ending is bad: like the irony of the title, which makes the ultimate stranger Mac, who isn’t even of Scottish extraction despite his name, the ‘local’ hero to the villagers of Ferness, the ending is an ironic inversion of the theme: the village is not spoiled but Mac is. Completing the under-structure of myth, Brigadoon has been saved. Mac is the sacrifice that preserves the way things should be.

Watching Local Hero the first time, I eagerly expected more of the fun I’d had out of Gregory’s Girl, but these are two different films. Forsyth is dealing with adults and a much more adult situation, and whilst there’s a mild comic inflexion to much of the film, especially in the background, the humour aims more for irony than out and out laughs. The film’s deliberately slow, which sometimes, especially in its American sequences, drags. I’ve already mentioned the abusive psychiatrist, Moritz, which is a crashing mistake, and I’ve got to be honest and say that I don’t find Peter Reigart convincing, especially in his voice: for an American, his American accent sounds like a bad attempt at faking it. Reigart’s lack of energy plays true to the overall feel of the film, but given what he is, it’s unconvincing, especially in the American segment, at the beginning. Reigart has no dynamics, which detracts from his absorption into the life of Ferness less impressive: he comes over as ready for a rest, making the village’s quasi-mythical conversion of him less impressive.

I said I’d return to the ladies, MesDames Seagrove, Black and Guthrie. Watching the film this time, I was struck at just how much a male-dominated film it it (and by extension Forsyth’s first two films are). Apart from a middle-aged shopkeeper with an implied relationship with Victor, these are the only female roles of any note in the film and Guthrie (who was Carol in Gregory’s Girl) has a minimal part as the village’s spiky-haired punk girl who tries to get off with Danny at the ceilidh.

So that leaves two women. Of the two, Seagrove gets the better deal, as the biologist-cum-water goddess. The lady was a beautiful young woman, long hair, clear blue eyes, a slim figure, but she’s out of the loop as far as the story is concerned. With the exception of a few seconds in a lab-coat, and a slightly longer scene in a beautiful gown, she’s only ever seen in swimsuit or wet-suit, in the water. Seagrove looks lovely, plays otherworldly, and after her introductory scene, interacts with  nobody but the gangly, inexperienced Danny (Capaldi makes him into a miracle of loose-limbed unco-ordinated movement, a gem of a performance).

And Jennifer Black gets even less. She’s ever better than a background figure, cool, composed, always fully in control, but she’s nothing to do with the story, despite a last minute attempt to portray her as the Boss. All Stella has to do is stand around, looking pretty, at which she excels, with a natural understated charm that shines through big cardigans and ankle-length practical skirts.

Whereas Seagrove’s Marina was always intended to be a slightly unrealistic character, the film does fall down in failing to capitalise upon Stella, or indeed offering any kind of substantial female role, even though it suspends itself between two very masculine cultures.

So: a film mostly of parts that, for me, never quite wholly coalesce. Still, I wouldn’t get rid of Local Hero, even despite its bloody soundtrack, lauded by many but not me because I mostly cannot stand Mark Knopfler. It was the third of four Scottish films by Forsyth, that led to David Puttnam taking him to Hollywood and basically crashing his career terminally. I think this film stands testament that, limited as it sounds, Forsyth was at his best as a Local Hero.

 

New Tricks: The Crazy Gang


Au revoir

And so it ended, with neither a bang nor a whimper. New Tricks came to an end after twelve series, condemned by the BBC for a dip in ratings that followed the departures of Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong, and probably prematurely, given that the series has clawed back a couple of million viewers this series and was still the most watched programme last Tuesday night.

Attention was paid to the series’ termination in no less than the Guardian this morning, though since the piece was by Stuart Heritage, with whom I have issues, it was full of condescension, metropolitan superiority and the kind of snidery that Heritage thinks raises laughs.

Some people just seem to have an issue with certain series’ being popular.

The finale had two stories to tell. One was the cold case: mental health campaigner Greg Collins, knifed to death on Millennium Eve, his case coming to UCOS after his daughter Rose found ominous words in the final page of the Journal that spoke of a forthcoming meeting with someone with whom he had been disagreeing.

The nature of the death suggest a crime of passion, and attention naturally turned to widow Vicky, to whom Greg had been unfaithful, especially after investigation turned up Toni, a woman with her own mental issues, who had been sectioned for many years.

I won’t spell out the twists and turns, but whilst the team were correct in their eventual theory that Toni, not Vicky, was Rose’s mum, Greg wasn’t the father, but the grandfather: Toni was his daughter by an earlier relationship. But the expected outcome that it had been the damaged Toni who had killed Greg, in her illness, did not materialise. In a scene of abiding emotion, Vicky, who had kept Rose from Toni in the belief that Rose was not safe, accepted from the calm Toni that she had mastered herself, that she had healed herself. Vicky, who had hated and withheld for fifteen years, sobbed at the mistake she had made  and the relationship she should never have tried to prevent.

How it might fall out now that everyone knew the truth was not the subject of the episode: the audience were left to contemplate that, but the emotions were both raw and complex.

And the murderer fell where those of us who share the same political tendencies as I secretly hoped it might, with Meera Syal as Baroness Shamira, the campaiigner who sold out to found a charity supported financially by the manufacturers of the dangerous drug Greg was opposing. All smarts suits and Westminster smoothness, despite her Lancashire accent, the Baroness expected to avoid all problems whilst going on about ‘the greater good’.

She even called in our dear friend, Assistant Commissioner Kline, to help smooth the way, but in the end Sasha pressured her into a confession that not only brought closure to Rose and her two mothers, but which neatly upended the headlong rush to disaster UCOS was undergoing.

For, twenty minutes in, Kline appears, announcing an Enquiry into the balls-up of the Hemway case of last week and the instant suspension of Steve, Danny and Ted. Except that the boys refuse to quit the investigation. Despite knowing their jobs are at stake, the Crazy Gang decides to go out in a blaze of glory, sticking to their principles to the last. Even Sasha ends up tacitly approving.

Unfortunately, it’s only too clear that the boys are still on the case so AC Kline steps in to disband UCOS completely. Never mind that it’s actually a powergrab on her part, seizing UCOS’s budget, and Sasha can still take the promotion to the Honour Killing Unit, the whole thing stinks.

But the gang produce the rabbit out of the hat one last time, and the fact that it was the Baroness – Kline’s close friend – leaves the necessary amount of wiggle-room for restitution. Kline moves on, Strickland moves up, UCOS is reinstated. Only…

The seeming end of UCOS has altered everybody’s plans. Danny had, heartbreakingly, turned down following Fiona to Aberdeen because of a final, residual sense of duty to his wife: the marriage is over, but Holly will never see her mother again and, whatever his own wishes, he is all she has. Not that that prevents him from taking on an investigative job that, being desk-bound, can be done anywhere, even Aberdeen.

Steve’s discovered his son is in Australia, so he’s heading out there, intent on becoming a P.I. and doing some bonding. And Ted has capitulated to Pat’s desire to travel: they’re off to the Amazon.

Even Sasha’s moving up: now that AC Kline has had her smooth arse elevated, DCI – I’m sorry, soon to be Detective Superintendent – Miller can take the Honour Killings post after all.

And so it ends. UCOS continues, unbowed, but it’s four members of staff all have new roads to travel, new destinies to pursue, and we get the decided feeling that things are going to go alright for them. Back at the ranch, a new, no doubt high-flying female DCI will recruit three cantankerous old buggers who used to be cops, and old cases will continue to be dug out and culprits brought to justice. We’ll just never see it or them.

I feel very much like I did when Last of the Summer Wine was choked off, a light entertainment that amused regularly, and sometimes did more than that, ended because of disdain and sneers from those who were not its audience anyway. What will replace it? You can bet that the gap this leaves will remain unclosed, that whatever next appears will be considerably more edgy, trendy, dark and cool.

Nothing wrong with that, but yet again the idea of television as a broad medium, with something for potentially everybody will get kicked in the balls.

So, thanks to those who have been following this series of blogs, thanks to Amanda, James, Alun and Dennis for starting it off, and Tamzin, Denis, Nicholas and Larry for being there at the end. More people swill miss you than the BBC could ever possibly imagine.

 

New Tricks: Life Expectancy


New Tricks 4

Ted Case

At last, a flicker, a story that didn’t end with a simple win, or a a cut-and-dried solution. Indeed, in a sense, you could say that the story did not have an ending at all, not in this life-cycle, to adapt the wording chosen by guest star David Haig, in his final moments.

There was an odd sense of deja vu about the start, as for a second successive week, the ‘boys’ turned up to meet Sasha at the site of some diggings, but the circumstances were very different. The scene was a graveyard that had been affected by a sudden sinkhole, exposing the grave of Gwen Morris, who had died of cancer in 2008. The reason for UCOS’s presence was that it had also exposed a murder weapon – a phrenology bust – used to kill Douglas Hempsey, an alternate medicine practitioner who had been treating her.

Prime suspect had always been Alison Morris, a freelance journalist on scientific issues, who had loudly blamed Hempsey for persuading her mother to cease chemotherapy that could have preserved her life. But Alison had a water-tight alibi.

This was an intriguingly structured investigation from the start, with the usual dissension between Steve and Danny over which subject to pursue, and with very little by way of clues to let the seasoned watcher anticipate who the eventual murderer would prove to be.

And, this being the penultimate episode, it was time to start dropping in little hints as to the possible fate of UCOS this time next Tuesday evening.

On the one side, there was Fiona, offered a Head of Services post that represented a golden chance for her, except that it was in Aberdeen.

On the other, in marched Assistant Commissioner Cynthia Kline to offer Sasha a promotion, to head a Task Force dealing with Honour Killings, and an uplift to Detective Superintendent. All very nice, if a bit steely, and with the underlying assumption that of course Sasha couldn’t refuse, giving AC Kline another elevated female Senior Officer owing her something.

Steve was the aggravated one, fearing getting a bad boss in as replacement, Ted was all encouragement and belief that Sasha should take thre plunge, despite her fears over her own lack of experience, whilst Danny was warning her against the game player AC.

This was generally allowed to rumble quietly in the background of an investigation that was struggling to make its mark. As well as the pale and nervous Alison, there was Hempsey’s ex-friend and business partner, Evan, who’d turned their alternative medicine practice/supply into a very nice little earner, and there was David Hempsey (Haig), who’d been an early part of the business along with his wife Rebecca, but who, after Rebecca’s death, had gotten into cryo-preservation.

As the scientific Hempsey Haig was all quiet smiles, sweet reasonableness, in deep regret for his loss and full of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Rebecca’s favourite music. You wanted to suspect him, but couldn’t see where he could possibly fit in, especially after Steve’s bull-at-a-gate tactics browbeat Alison into confessing to Hempsey’s murder.

But it was far too soon for a conclusion, and we’d already been set-up to understand that it was a legal disaster: with Sasha not about, Alison panicked and insisted on leaving her questioning, but collapsed into confession when formally arrested by Ted. Except that neither he, Steve, nor Danny are serving Police Officers and have no rights to arrest. The confession was illegal, was promptly withdrawn the moment the Solicitor got there, and the next morning Alison slit her wrists.

Thankfully, the team had gone to visit her and saved her life, but the cock-up was now beginning to spiral. Needless to say, Kline was happy to protect Sasha and ensure none of this farrago touched her.

But by now, little pieces were finally coming together. You see, Gwen Morris and Douglas Hempsey had both died in the same week but, in a superbly held-back piece of information, we learned that Rebecca Hempsey had also died the same week. And was frozen in cryo in California.

The moment Fiona came up with evidence that Rebecca had been subtly poisoned, the case came together. David had poisoned his wife when she refused to end her affair with Douglas: indeed, he killed her when he found she and Douglas had signed up to cryo together. As for Douglas, Alison Morris had indeed fractured his skull with the bust, but it was David who had finished the job with a monkey wrench, ensuring the body could not be accepted for cryo. Rebecca might wake up in some distant future when her bodily ills could be cured, but it would not be to Douglas.

Instead, it would be to David, killing himself before UCOS’s unwilling eyes once it was clear he had been exposed. To David, it wasn’t so much dying as de-animation, the end of a cycle that had disappointed him so much, the inner confidence of a life hereafter, in which Rebecca would love him again, if only because there would be no-one else for her to wake up to.

In some tiny part of me, I had an inkling of what was in his heart, though not what was in his head.

But though Kline tried to smooth it over a a success for UCOS, for which difficulties Sasha would be insulated, it was a different matter when Sasha refused the promotion, went against Kline’s wishes. That wuill carry over into next week’s final episode.

As for Danny, I know of plenty of long-term New Tricks fans who see him as the spoiler who ruined their programme. Needless to say, I don’t agree, though there are times when, especially in questioning, he’s unnecessarilly supercilious. But in his relationship with Fiona this season, we’ve seen a different side of him, a loving, devoted, very rooted side that, delivered with his characteristic dryness, has been marvelous to follow.

And in perhaps a foreshadow of next week, Danny came through: if Fiona takes this chance, as she so very much deserves, he will go with her, to Aberdeen and god know’s what, because she is simply that important to him and ego will not stand in his way.

A quiet, complex episode, with conundrums at the heart of it. Unorthodoxy looks to have invited serious problems, all aimed at forcing Sasha to do AC Kline’s bidding. But it’s that numinous moment, of the killer happy to die in pursuit of the ultimate romantic longing, that is to be taken away.

New Tricks: Lottery Curse


Sasha Miller

A gently downbeat episode as we close in on the end, with not a lot of depth to comment about, and refreshingly free of the soap opera interludes that have passed for personal life sub-plots this series.

Lottery Curse started in situ with the team called out to a house where a body had been discovered under the patio, which was rapidly proved to be Cheryl Sheekey (what an odd surname to choose), Lottery winner in 1997 and disappeared, suspected murdered in 1998.

UCOS  set out to unravel a pleasantly convoluted back story involving the other members of the four-person Pub Quiz Team/Lottery Syndicate who’d scored £900K each and who’d set out to use their winnings in the differing ways that seemed best to them.

Cheryl had been the original Spend, Spend, Spend girl. Chris, the team leader, had bought a Garden Centre, with his wife Liz, who Cheryl had had forced off the team. Her childhood mate, Eleanor, had opened an Animal Welfare Shelter, and her besotted husband, Terry, had turned to drugs to cope with the strain of their suddenly public life.

Indeed Terry had been, and still remained chief suspect, though the case had ended up being dropped due to lack of evidence, especially after Cheryl’s car had been found abandoned at Dover, her passport gone.

Though he ended up back at the forefront of the investigation, Terry came over throughout as someone who’d just loved his wife too much. He’d spent seventeen years apparently convinced she was still alive, and undertaking missing persons searches trying to locate, which was an awfully big act to have carried out for someone seeking to establish plausible deniability.

But as the pieces were shuffled about, suspected affairs turned into scams by the money-greedy Cheryl, and when push came to shove, Eleanor tried too hard to frame Terry and undid herself in the process.

As I said, pleasingly low key and mostly unemotional. In the only subplot, the boys set Sasha up to get her end away with a handsome forensic scientist, colleague to Fiona, but that was at least handled with minimal fuss.

An easy way to spend an hour, but ultimately forgettable. Only two more.

New Tricks: The Russian Cousin


Danny Griffin

It’s looking increasingly clear that, having decided that this will be the final series, the BBC has told the team behind New Tricks to forget all about this ambitious stuff and settle for going out in a blaze of carpet slippers. There are few things more annoying in any form of the arts than to watch potential being deliberately ignored.

‘The Russian Cousin’ was slightly better than it might have been in taking, as one of its underlying stories, the issue of a very decent, very brave man, dying of cancer, deserving of both respect and sympathy, victim of a crime that had robbed both himself and the daughters on whom he doted, of financial security, of hope, and revealing him to be the murderer in the latest cold case.

Having him played by Dean Andrews, Ray Carling in Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, was an astute piece of casting, designed to bring the audience alongside for the whole episode and even through the revelation that he was the killer of private investigator Mike Hooper. Even at the end, the viewer was led to accept Barry Warnock as a good man, who would be spared prosecution for his crime because his cancer was so far advanced that he could not be tried before his impending death.

Where the episode fell short on what could have been an excellent episode was in loading the scales too heavily on Barry’s side. In order not to threaten the audience’s respect for the man, his victim, Hooper, was retrospectively revealed as an out-and-out bastard, crooked, double-dealing, cheating his own client.

The Russian Cousin of the title was a very rare and valuable stamp, of which only twelve were known to exist. Warnock had inherited it from his Grandfather, and kept in with a box of the old man’s letters, diaries and memorabilia. At first he pretended not to know the worth of the stamp but later it transpired he did indeed know it was a ‘nest egg’.

The box was stolen by some no-mark toerag in a spate of burglaries and sold to a pawnbroker in ignorance. Later, it had come on the market in mysterious, ooh, alright, dodgy circumstances and been bought by an Internet billionaire in full knowledge that it was stolen and complete confidence that the Police would never find anything that small, no matter how many Search Warrants they obtained.

But the ultimate point was that, after Warnock had hired Hooper to find the missing stamp, it was Hooper who bought it from the pawnbroker and masterminded the sale to private collectors. It was his working pattern, he had done the same with the red herring suspect who’d stolen £30,000 off his girlfriend and vanished: Hooper found him and demanded money to keep quiet.

In making Hooper an utter shitbag who’d double-crossed a decent man with a terminal condition, the episode played it safe and easy, and missed its chance to navigate deeper waters. If Hooper had been someone equally decent as the unfortunate Warnock, the episode would have been far better, grappling with the moral ambiguity, but it wouldn’t have been so easy to write. Last year’s New Tricks was in the frame of mind to tackle things like that.

Otherwise, the soap opera elements of the series bimbled along. Ted was resisting going to the Doctors for a health test in connection with Life Insurance renewal, which concerned Danny greatly: Ted’s family was genetically prone to a rare heart condition and he was resisting the risk of learning he had it. But he didn’t.

As for Steve’s money issues, this week he tried renting his flat out as a Shortstay, £300.00 for 48 hours to a pair of Italian ladies who turned out to be scam artists planning to strip the place. But a nosy neighbour tipped Steve off, so no harm was done there either. Typical.

So, with only three episodes of its life left, New Tricks has eschewed the possibilities it showed and reverted very thoroughly to being Insubstantial Airfill. Which was what I originally praised it for being: decent, inoffensive, modestly entertaining. Once upon a time, that would have been sufficient to see things through, but after seeing what the programme could be, when it put its mind to it, all it can be now is disappointing.

New Tricks: The Fame Game


New Tricks 3

Steve McAndrew

After the praise I lavished on the genuinely excellent two-part series opener, New Tricks seems to be going out of its way to refute my opinion that it had reached a new level and was no longer the Insubstantial Airfill that I’d categorised it as being at the start of series 11, last year.

The latest episode, The Fame Game, once again decided to sideline Tamzin Outhwaite, by confining her to a comedy relief role, a bit of filler with no relation to the plot. Sasha Miller is on a course about European Community Policing that, conveniently, happens to be taking place upstairs, allowing her to come in at regular intervals and huff and puff about the way her son Alex is using his supposed ‘Study Leave’ to do bugger all about his ‘Project’.

So once again it’s a boy’s own show, which automatically diminishes the series.

This week’s set-up once again ducked any moral grey areas and kept well away from any excessive emotional involvement. Thirteen years ago, professional look-alikes and married couple Anna and Jim Briggs jointly committed suicide by drinking champagne laced with liquid valium. But now a concealed mobile belonging to Anna has come to light, full of explicit texts indicated she was having a wild affair with an unknown male. Was it therefore suicide?

Interestingly, whilst Anna’s look-alike was the internationally renowned Cher, Jim’s speciality was fictional ex-footballer and general all-round tabloid bad boy, Mikey Bishop, which told us that Mikey, who’s turned into something of an unlikely recluse controlled by his calm, collected, tv agent wife, was going to be all over this like a cheap suit.

The major problem was that, from the moment Claire Bishop insisted that any future UCOS enquiries be directed to her because she didn’t want her husband disturbed by having the past brought up again, I worked out the solution. This was little more than a quarter hour in, which made for a very frustrating experience watching the clues slowly trickle in whilst Ted, Steve and Danny bent their joint and several heads around them the wrong way.

Not that I’d spotted any clues myself. It was just that if you’ve ever seen a reasonably sophisticated detective series on tv, the circumstances of the crime in themselves were sufficient to direct an enquiring mind to the only possible dramatic solution.

It rather spoilt the plot for me.

There were some good points in the soap opera aspect. Not so much Steve’s ongoing issues with debt and with letting his (unseen) son down but Danny’s growing relationship with Fiona (always happy to look at Tracy-Ann Oberman). The pair are increasingly staying over at each other’s homes, though Danny was still clinging to the past, to his daughter’s home and his memories, in a short-sighted and selfish fashion, only to realise in the end that the future meant more. It was deftly and drily done, but I’m a sucker for romance that demonstrates an increasing understanding between people, and this was the goods.

So: we are over the hump of the final series, six episodes down, only four to go. I’m beginning to suspect that, given the combination of the complete replacement of the cast and the decision to end the series, the BBC has decided to make this a low-key affair so that there will be no awkward demands for more. If this is to be the standard of the remaining episodes, I shalln’t be grumbling at the end.

It rather reminds me of Blake’s Seven and the Beeb’s decision to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t get any pressure to bring it back for a fifth series by producing this deliberately shitty episode to end series 4 by killing absolutely everybody off, in complete contravention of the style and trappings of the series all along (oh, how clever darling, we’ll shut it down by having the fascist bastards slaughter every last vestige of opposition…).

Hopefully, there will be better in the few last slots: the show has certainly proved itself capable of it and deserves to go out on a high.

 

New Tricks: Prodigal Sons


                     Never say no to a nice photo of Tamzin Outhwaite

A bit of an odd episode this. For a start, the underlying theme was associated with cricket, but we didn’t get any cliched jokes – though, of course, we weren’t on ITV, were we, where the only thing ever associated with the greatest game on Earth was rain.

The case was a nicely intricate one. The re-examination of a crap pathologists’s cases leads to UCOS being brought in to look over the death of highly skilled professional cricket, A J de Silva, whose proud father had always maintained had been murdered, not committed suicide a decade ago, just as England were celebrating the 2005 Ashes win.

It turned out that everyone had hated A.J., who was a self-centred, self-indulgent git, thus setting up motives by the score, but no evidence whatsoever of murder. What was eventually uncovered was that several of the team, including and at the direction of the captain – now a management bullshit consultant using cricketing terms – were engaged in match-fixing, and A.J.’s refusal to countenance this, his intention to go to the authorities, got him killed.

For most of the way, the procedural part of the story was going nowhere, but as usual it’s Danny Griffin who sees the vital clue, sparked off by a chance remark on a different subject.

It was a curiously uninvolving crime, for all that it hung around the edges of cricket, and it did not approach any emotional depth until the final, almost unimportant detail was explained. A.J. came as a package with his younger, much less talented brother, Sanjit, who’d acted as his minder, clearing up his messes and ensuring their doting father – doting on A.J., that is – never cottoned on.

Sanjit had been the one to find his brother dead, dead and left to be humiliated. He had changed the crime scene in order to preserve his brother’s dignity at the last, an act of love to which the appropriate blind eye was turned.

Apart from that, the episode was buttressed up with a few personal notes. Sasha, back to full fitness with surprising speed, enrols the team in a forthcoming dinner-dance with a notorious reputation for breaking up relationships. Danny and Fiona’s relationship is getting closer (I really like the dry, intelligent way it’s being presented, with a minimal overt romanticism pointing cleverly to the genuine depth between this pair) but Danny needs to explain things to his wife, Sarah, who, as we recall, is committed to a mental institution. Sarah’s approval is needed, and from the way the vital scene is omitted, I suspect it hasn’t been forthcoming, though Danny claims this is so.

Steve’s financial problems are uncovered by Danny, who organises him and sets him a budget, but whether Steve’s sticking to it…

And last, but not least, Ted turns up at the dinner-dance with his other half, Pat. Or Patrick, if we’re being formal…

A good but not great episode, and definitely an improvement on last week. It may even contain a bit of foreshadowing, as Sasha thanks Ted for staying on after Gerry, as that could have been the excuse the Met has been looking for to shut UCOS down. After all, they’re the awkward squad, and Strickland has to fight for them nearly every day.

Sounds like a plot to me.