Hazel McHaffie

Jodi Comer

Talking Heads and buzzing brains

This lockdown experience has offered a unique opportunity to take stock and think through my writerly options. Masterclasses online, bonanza reading binges, virtual literary festivals, quiet time, space … everything has been guiding me towards the formulation of a plan.

This week added another range of possibilities. You might remember Alan Bennett‘s playlets, Talking Heads, being broadcast back in 1988 – yes? I can hear Bennett’s own Yorkshire voice in my head still – droll, deadpan, downbeat, almost monotonous. So little is said; so much evoked. Famous actors (Patricia Routledge, Thora Hird, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins, Penelope Wilton, Stephanie Cole, Bennett himself) took on the persona of each character and breathed life into those monologues – the alcoholic vicar’s wife, the paedophile, the antique dealer, the trapped aging son of a woman with dementia, the poison-pen letter writer … No subject seemed to be off limits, no matter how bleak. The characters were almost all inadequate, naive, suppressed, unfulfilled, and their perspectives invited pity blended with ridicule.

Thirty-two years on, new lockdown versions of these brilliant soliloquies have just been streamed again on BBC1, plus a couple of new ones written by the now 86-year-old Bennett. Perfect programmes to conform with the restrictions of this Covid-19 era, with household names such as Imelda Staunton, Harriet Walters, Martin Freeman, Sarah Lancashire, Jodi Comer, Maxine Peake, reprising the roles. And this time I’ve been viewing them much more critically. The writing is superb with the railway-line repetitive ‘I said …, he said …’ thrumming through them all, and the incidental one-liners masterclasses in themselves:
Borage bullying its way all over the borders
There’s been a verucca here, but it’s extinct
England offers more scope for caring than the bush
They don’t expect you to be an atheist if you’re a ‘Miss’

Shutterstock image

Just how did Bennett judge how much to spell out, how much to leave to inference? How did the thespians convey so much more than the words? How does the pathos somehow become so comical? What is it that keeps the suspense, forces me to watch and to anticipate and to think? Is there strength in the sheer breadth of issues covered, or could the format tease out nuances across a narrower spectrum of life experiences?

And a lightbulb went on!! My brain is currently toying with brand new possibilities for my own writing.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments

Expecting the unexpected

While my current novel is still open to change I’m on the alert for anything that will improve it. And especially how to ratchet up the tension and suspense.

To that end I watched the British-made BBC drama, Killing Eve, billed as breaking with convention and putting warm heart into psychopathy. Twice!! Ahah. Some alternative angles on psychological themes then? Could be useful.

The story basically features a rather bored desk-bound MI5 security officer, Eve Polanski, (Sandra Oh) commissioned to bring a talented psychopathic assassin, Villanelle, (Jodi Comer) to justice. The chase covers continents and time-frames and languages and widely disparate settings at breathtaking speed, leaving a trail of death, destruction and confusion in its wake, constantly surprising and subverting expectation. The two women become obsessed with/by each other. Both principal actors are brilliant in their parts, and are well supported by the rest of the talented cast. Almost everyone seems to be suspect at some point or other, nothing is what it appears to be … as you might expect in a spy thriller.

Being in critical mode, I kept thinking how improbable various points were, how implausible. Incongruities, unfulfilled story-lines, questionable details … but you know what? It didn’t matter! I’m not one of those anachronism watchdogs who whinge about detail, and I’m not about to assassinate this hugely successful programme on the basis of trivial criticisms. Instead, I’m lost in admiration of the skills (at all levels, in all aspects of film-making) that went into creating it, holding me enthralled episode after episode. The eighth and final-to-date installment (8) ends with Villanelle, seriously wounded by Eve, escaping yet again. There has to be another series, and indeed one is promised. And I’m already awaiting it with bated breath.

Lesson learned? Get the big picture right, provide the compelling story, and you can be forgiven much. So … back to employment laws and grievances and settlements and ….  Research can be fascinating in its own right.

 

, , , , , , , ,

Comments