It's time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in June 2015. As well as part three of its Dennis Potter season, which includes both The Son of Man and Follow The Yellow Brick Road, there will be previews of two new shows: AMC/Channel 4’s Humans (an adaptation of Sweden’s Äkta Människor) and The Outcast, a BBC One adaptation of Sadie Jones’ novel of the same name.
Monday 1 June
TV Preview: Humans + Q&A with writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley and director Sam Donovan and cast members
Kudos-Channel 4-AMC-Matador Films 2015. Dir Sam Donovan. With William Hurt, Katherine Parkinson, Colin Morgan, Gemma Chan. Ep1 60min
Join us for a preview of the first episode of this ambitious new eight-part series. Humans is set in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant eerily similar to its live counterpart. In the hope of transforming the way they live, one strained suburban family purchases a refurbished synth, only to discover that sharing life with a machine has far-reaching and chilling consequences.
Please check bfi.org.uk for final guest confirmations
Tuesday 2 June
Son of Man
BBC 1969. Dir Gareth Davies. With Colin Blakely, Robert Hardy, Bernard Hepton, Brian Blessed. 90min Potter’s great achievement is to humanise the figure of Jesus and provide dialogue that’s earthy, direct and modern, allowing Colin Blakely to bring an immediacy to Potter’s Christ – a man riven with self doubt and possible delusion. The question ‘Is this the messiah?’ is left hanging in the air even as Jesus the man hangs on the cross.
+ Discussion with director Gareth Davies, the Reverend Giles Fraser, critic Philip Purser and producer Kenith Trodd TRT 50min
Our distinguished panel will discuss Son of Man and the wider issue of faith within Potter’s writing alongside a clip from Potter’s 1977 Anno Domini Interview.
Please check bfi.org.uk for panel confirmations
Wednesday 3 June
TV Preview: The Outcast + Q&A with writer Sadie Jones, director Iain Softley and cast members
Blueprint Pictures-BBC 2015. Dir Iain Softley. With George Mackay, Greg Wise, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hattie Morahan. Part one 90min
BBC One’s The Outcast is a two-part adaptation of Sadie Jones’ best-selling novel. This deeply romantic, remarkably honest coming-of-age story is set in booming post-war Britain as Lewis (Mackay), a grief-stricken boy, struggles under the care of a father he barely knows when his beloved mother dies. Lewis’ life, filled with people intent on keeping up appearances, begins to spiral out of control and take him further and further away from the help that he needs...
Please check bfi.org.uk for final guest confirmations
Insights into Potter:
The Southbank Show: Dennis Potter: Man of Television + intro by producer Kenith Trodd
ITV 1978. With Melvyn Bragg, Dennis Potter. 30min
In this revealing interview with Melvyn Bragg, Potter discusses his belief in what television drama should achieve and his desire for his work to reflect the ‘structure, shape and responses to people’s lives.’
+ Thirty-Minute Theatre: Emergency Ward 9
BBC 1966. Director Gareth Davies. With Terence de Marney, Tenniel Evans, Dan Jackson. 30min
Long thought lost and only recently rediscovered, this is an ironic riff on programmes like Emergency Ward 10. Potter’s live play for TV displays so many of the themes that were to later blossom in his work – from a questioning of faith, the nature of death and the afterlife, to the British obsession with class – with banter that pre-echoes his later masterpiece The Singing Detective.
+ Dennis Potter: A Life in Television
BBC 1994. Producer Roger Parsons. Reporter Kevin Jackson. 60min
Transmitted as a tribute on the night of his death, this detailed documentary fetaures those who knew and worked with Potter (Alan Yentob, Melvyn Bragg, Trevor Griffiths, Alan Plater, Michael Grade, Kenith Trodd), building a highly nuanced picture of a complex man and the significance of his work.
Saturday 6 June
The Mayor of Casterbridge
BBC 1978. Dir David Giles. With Alan Bates, Anne Stallybrass, Janet Maw, Anna Massey, Jack Galloway. Eps 1-3 (155min), interval (15min), Eps 4-5 (105min), interval (40min), Eps 6-7 (105min)
Potter brilliantly elucidates the dark fatalism of Hardy’s classic novel and displays his great skill in adaptation by remaking the literary work as an excellent TV drama series. Alan Bates is superb as the man who drunkenly sells his wife and eventually becomes Mayor, only for his past to destroy him, and Anne Stallybrass imbues the long-suffering wife with a great dignity that’s very moving. This was one of the first period dramas to be shot entirely on location on videotape, which lends it an intimacy and a sense of authenticity.
Tickets £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.70 less)
Tuesday 9 June
Between Two Rivers
BBC 1960. Dirs Anthony de Lotbiniere, Dennis Potter. 30min
Potter often drew inspiration from his childhood and in this documentary, from early on in his career, he pays homage to his home town – Berry Hill in the Forest of Dean. He voices fears for the loss of individuality and community spirit in the face of ever-encroaching bland commercialism and an apathy spread by consumerism.
+ A Beast With Two Backs
BBC 1968. Dir Lionel Harris. With Patrick Barr, Terence Sewards, Roger Gartland, Anthony Andrews. 71min
A travelling entertainer and his tame dancing bear arrive in town the same night as the local prostitute is murdered in the woods. Suspicion and gossip begin to tear the community apart through a toxic combination of religious zeal and hysteria – with Potter implying that the beast within man is to be feared far more than a hapless dancing bear.
Saturday 13 June
Tender Is the Night
BBC-Showtime Entertainment-Seven Network Australia. By arrangement with Twentieth Century Fox. Dir Robert Knights. With Peter Strauss, Mary Steenbergen, Sean Young. Eps 1-3 (165min), interval (45min), Eps 4-5 (110min), interval (15min), Ep6 (55min)
Brilliant, young and handsome psychiatrist Dick Diver (Strauss) falls for his mysterious patient Nicole (Steenbergen) who’s haunted by memories of sexual abuse. In doing so, he sacrifices his own career, and the marriage that follows becomes his prison but an essential part of her cure. Potter’s adaptation captures the tone of Fitzgerald’s novel perfectly and conveys the sense of waste in lavish lives lived with no sense of purpose.
+ Discussion with director Robert Knights, exec producer Jonathan Powell, producer Betty Wellingale and producer Kenith Trodd TRT 50min
Join us for a discussion on Potter’s great talent in adapting other authors’ work, alongside a fine selection of clips.
Tickets £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.70 less)
Tuesday 16 June
Wessex Tales: A Tragedy of Two Ambitions
BBC 1973. Dir Michael Tuchner. With Paul Rogers, John Hurt, David Troughton, Lynne Frederick. 50min
Potter clearly felt an affinity with Thomas Hardy’s work, returning to him in 1978 to adapt The Mayor of Casterbridge. Hardy’s story of two brothers attempting to rise through the ranks of the church, but haunted by their drunken father, was bound to appeal to Potter with its themes of fate, class transcendence and religious hypocrisy.
+ Anno Domini Interview: Dennis Potter
BBC 1977. Producer Dennis Sullivan. 33min
Filmed on the same day as his resignation as TV critic of The Sunday Times (due to illness), this interview provides new insight into Potter’s work and his intensely held belief that faith is absolutely central to the human experience.
+ Late Night Line Up
BBC 1977. 22min
Dennis Potter, Head of BBC Plays Christopher Morahan and interviewer Michael Dean ask ‘Is the golden age of TV drama over?’ (this in 1977!). Their conclusion that the health of the single play ‘is the indicator of the health of the TV system itself’ speaks volumes.
Thursday 18 June
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
BBC 1972. Dir Alan Bridges. With Denholm Elliott, Billie Whitelaw, Michele Dotrice, Dennis Waterman. 69min
Potter described this as ‘essentially and passionately, a religious play.’ Denholm Elliott gives a riveting performance as an actor with creeping paranoia, convinced that his life is a play and the dialogue preordained by God – a device which allows Potter to be audacious with the very conventions of the TV drama. The tension Potter feels between the spiritual and the banality of everyday life is reflected in the use of ironic advertising within the play.
+ Play for Today: Joe’s Ark
BBC 1974. Dir Alan Bridges. With Freddie Jones, Angharad Rees, Dennis Waterman, Christopher Guard 66min
A father struggles with his faith as his daughter lies upstairs dying of cancer. Potter unflinchingly turns the spotlight on death and the social and religious rituals we use to cope with it, and Angharad Rees gives an astonishing performance as the young girl facing death with dignity
Saturday 27 June
Christabel + intro by producer Kenith Trodd
BBC 1988. Dir Adrian Shergold. With Stephen Dillane, Elizabeth Hurley, Geoffrey Palmer, Nigel Le Vaillant. 4 x 60min eps (plus interval)
Based on The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg, this series charts the marriage of a privileged Englishwoman to a German in 1934 amid disapproval from her family and the rise of Nazism. Two things attracted Potter to adapt the story – ‘one: it’s a celebration of married love, and two: it’s the perfect answer to the idea of collective guilt. They were confronted with this raving maniac and yet managed to emerge without doing anything degrading.’
+ Lifetimes: Christabel Bielenberg
BBC 1989. Dir Robin Wylie. 29min
In this revealing interview Christabel Bielenberg discusses witnessing the rise of National Socialism in Germany from 1934, and the wartime experiences that changed her and left her with an enduring hatred of racial and religious intolerance.
Champions' priority booking: May 4 11.30am
Members' priority booking opens: May 5 11.30am
Public booking opens: May 12
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.