It's time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in February 2015. And it’s a two-prong approach from the BFI this month, with a series of previews of forthcoming TV shows on the one hand – Channel 4’s Indian Summers, BBC One's Poldark and ITV's Arthur & George – and on the other, a series of little-repeated plays that fair puts The Wednesday Play in the shade and includes Alan Bleasdale’s first TV drama Early To Bed.
Tuesday 3 February
Second City Firsts: Early to Bed + panel discussion with actor Alison Steadman, former Commissioning Editor of Drama at Channel 4 Peter Ansorge, director Les Blair and producer Tara Prem
BBC 1975. Dir Leslie Blair. With David Warwick, Alison Steadman, Johnny Meadows, Patricia Leach. 30min
Alan Bleasdale’s first TV drama is about an 18-year-old man (Warwick) who embarks on an affair with the young, married woman (Steadman) who lives next door in their small mining village in Lancashire. Filmed on location by Leslie Blair who, as Bleasdale acknowledged, ‘made a script of some promise, but no great quality, into something worth watching.’
+ Second City Firsts: Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration
BBC 1976. Dir Mike Newell. With Sara Kestelman, David Wilkinson, Eileen McCallum, Ivor Roberts. 30min
David (Wilkinson) is a young man living with Ruth (Kestelman), a woman nearly twice his age. Like the majority of Second City Firsts, this drama – Ian McEwan’s first for TV – was recorded in the studio at Pebble Mill, with the confined set greatly enhancing the tension when David’s parents visit on his birthday.
Tuesday 10 February
Sunday Night Theatre: Anastasia + intro by Dr Lez Cooke, Senior Research Officer, Royal Holloway University of London
BBC 1953. Dirs John Counsell and Rosemary Hill. With Helen Haye, Mary Kerridge, Anthony Ireland, Peter Cushing. 100min.
Anastasia, based on the play by Marcelle Maurette, is a prime example of the rediscovery of a TV play long after it was thought to have been destroyed. Cushing gives an outstanding performance as one of the Russian conspirators who come to realise that the woman they want to impersonate Anastasia, the rumoured surviving member of the Romanov royal family, may actually be authentic.
Thursday 12 February
TV Preview: Indian Summers + Q&A with actors Julie Walters, Nikesh Patel, writer Paul Rutman and director Anand Tucker
New Pictures-Channel 4-Masterpiece 2015. Dir Anand Tucker. With Julie Walters, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Jemima West, Nikesh Patel. Ep1 75min
Simla, 1932: India dreams of independence, but the British are clinging to power. Set against the sweeping grandeur of the Himalayas, Indian Summers tells the rich and explosive story of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India, seen through both British and Indian eyes. Passions, rivalries and clashes come to define the lives of those brought together during the summer that will change everything. Following this preview, you’ll have the chance to hear from the cast and creative team behind this epic 10-part drama.
Sunday 15 February
Thursday Theatre: Johnson Over Jordon + intro by Dr Billy Smart, Television Studies Research Officer, Royal Holloway University of London
BBC 1965. Dir Lionel Harris. With Ralph Richardson, Paul Eddington, Hannah Gordon. 80min
Ralph Richardson reprises one of his greatest stage successes in this little-known TV revival. He plays the titular Johnson, who must relive and reflect upon his existence as he passes into the afterlife. JB Priestley’s drama presents a soulful, abstract, expressionist world that fully tested the resources of the 1960s TV studio to awe-inspiring and emotional effect.
+ You Know What People Are
BBC 1955. Dir Tony Richardson. With Clive Morton, Natasha Parry, Frances Rowe, John Stratton. 30min
Unseen since its original transmission, this sole surviving edition of You Know What People Are is a fascinating insight into JB Priestley’s attempts to create an original drama that could only be told through the new medium of television, using a fixed repertory company of the same four actors for each play in the series.
Wednesday 18 February
Six: The Logic Game + intro by Dr Lez Cooke, Senior Research Officer, Royal Holloway University of London
BBC 1965. Dir Philip Saville. With David de Keyser, Jane Arden, Peter Henry. 62min
Shown as one of a series of six films on BBC2, Philip Saville’s The Logic Game features two characters playing out a complex guessing game. Co-written by Jane Arden (who also stars), the film was informed by ideas of existential psychoanalysis – it includes an interview with psychiatrist RD Laing – and aroused controversy when it was shown at the London Film Festival in 1964.
+ Five More: Shotgun
BBC 1966. Dir John McGrath. With Shirley Anne Field, Nigel Davenport, Zena Walker, Petra Markham. 50min
Shotgun was one of two films directed by producer John McGrath for the follow-up series to Six, this time on the theme of love and marriage. Moving between the Scottish Highlands and London, past and present, it tells a story of infidelity and deceit, with its experimental structure complemented by strong performances (including Edward Fox in a minor role).
Monday 23 February
Londoners: Pity About the Abbey + intro by Dr Billy Smart, Television Studies Research Officer, Royal Holloway University of London+ intro with cast member Katy Manning
BBC 1965. Dir Ian Curteis. With Henry McGee, John Harvey, Suzanne Mockler, Derek Francis. 75min
Pity About the Abbey is the only surviving play from a 1965 BBC2 series called Londoners. Co-written by John Betjeman, before he became Poet Laureate, it adopts a deliciously comic tone (it was subtitled ‘A Comedy About the Future’), and describes a plan to knock down Westminster Abbey and replace it with a new government building.
+ Armchair Theatre: The Golden Road
Thames 1973. Dir Douglas Camfield. With Katy Manning, Olive McFarland, Joyce Heron. 50min
Unseen for over 40 years, Pat Hooker’s The Golden Road is believed to be the first lesbian drama written by a woman made for British TV. It features a beguiling performance from Manning, shaking off her Doctor Who assistant persona, as the free-spirited lodger who profoundly disrupts the lives of the suburban family she moves in with.
TV Preview: Poldark + Q&A with writer Debbie Horsfield, lead actors Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson, and director Ed Bazalgette
Mammoth Screen-BBC 2015. Dir Ed Bazalgette. With Aidan Turner. c60min
It’s 1783 and Britain is in the grip of a chilling recession with falling wages, rising prices and civil unrest. Ross Poldark (Turner) returns from the American War of Independence to his beloved Cornwall to find his world in ruins: his father dead, the family mine long since closed, his house wrecked and his sweetheart pledged to marry his cousin. Winston Graham’s acclaimed saga is adapted for the screen by Debbie Horsfield and also stars Eleanor Tomlinson, Heida Reed, Kyle Soller, Jack Farthing and Ruby Bentall.
Wednesday 25 February
TV Preview: Arthur & George + Q&A with actors Martin Clunes and Hattie Morahan, and producer Philippa Braithwaite
Buffalo Pictures-ITV 2015. Dir Stuart Orme. With Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali, Charles Edwards, Hattie Morahan. 46min
Martin Clunes plays the celebrated novelist and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Ed Whitmore’s three part adaptation of Julian Barnes’ novel Arthur & George. Set in 1903, the drama follows Sir Arthur and his trusted manservant Alfred (Edwards) as they investigate the case of George Edalji (Ali), a young solicitor wrongly imprisoned for mutilating animals.
Thursday 26 February
Play of the Month: The Common + intro by Dr Billy Smart, Television Studies Research Officer, Royal Holloway University of London
BBC 1973. Dir Christopher Morahan. With Peter Jeffrey, Vivien Merchant, Dennis Waterman. 100min
While Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade and Passion Play have recently been revived in the West End, his contemporaneous TV dramas remain unseen. The Common tells the story of an affair across divisions of age and class between true-blue Jane (Merchant) and socialist teacher Sean (Waterman). The result is an effective, subtle and mature comedy about London society.
Champions' priority booking: January 12 11.30am
Members' priority booking opens: January 13 11.30am
Public booking opens: January 20 11.30am
Prices (excluding gift aid)
£6.65 (member concs)
£8.15 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00
Prices (including gift aid and voluntary contribution)
£7.50 (member concs)
£9 (non-members concs)
All shows are £6 on Tuesdays. Conc prices are available to senior citizens, students, unwaged and disability visitors. Proof of eligibility may be required.
As always, visit the BFI web site for more details.