It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in July 2014. Given that it’s the second part of a season dedicated to his work, this month can again best be summed up by two words: Dennis Potter. And why not?
But there’s also a preview of the second series of The Mill, and a couple of events dedicated to children’s TV throughout the ages as well.
I’ll leave you with this week’s Wednesday Play: Potter’s Schmoedipus, starring Tim Curry, Anna Cropper and Bob Hoskins. More on that after the jump, though.
Tue 1 July 18:00 NFT3
The Wednesday Play: Where the Buffalo Roam
BBC 1966. Dir Gareth Davies. With Hywel Bennett, Megs Jenkins, Aubrey Richards. 73min
This play has an eerie resonance in an age when apparently unmotivated shootings are so prevalent, and here Potter explores how easily the psychologically damaged can be tipped over the edge with tragic consequences. Willy fantasises about being a cowboy, but gradually we begin to see how this is an escape from a darker past. As he loses his grip on reality he’s overwhelmed by events.
+ Moonlight on the Highway
ITV 1969. Dir James MacTaggart. With Ian Holm, Anthony Bate, Deborah Grant. 52min
David Peters, brilliantly portrayed here by Ian Holm, is obsessed with the songs of Al Bowlly and wishes that the sentimentality they convey was like reality. He is the genesis of Arthur in the later play Pennies from Heaven; Peters, however, is a much darker character – for him these tunes are an escape from childhood sexual abuse and crushing feelings of guilt. It’s in Moonlight on the Highway that Potter discovers the dramatic power in the counterpoint of sweet music and bitter torment.
Introduced by producer Kenith Trodd
Fri 4 July 20:40 NFT2
Company of Five: Shaggy Dog
ITV 1968. Dir Gareth Davies. With John Neville, Gwen Watford, Ann Bell, Cyril Luckham. 52min
There’s something very contemporary about this riff on the nature of capitalism and the loss of individuality within an all-conquering system. Wilkie (Neville) is attending an important job interview, but it soon becomes obvious that the pressures of modern life have unhinged him. Surreal and Kafkaesque, this clever play has dialogue that sings.
+ Potter Pieces (30min)
Excerpts from interviews with Potter, and a chance to showcase some of the rarest and most unusual material, including the sketches that he wrote for TW3, Does Class Matter (1958), Russell Harty Plus (1979), and Opinions (1993).
Wed 9 July 18:10 NFT3
BBC 1965. Dir Gareth Davies. With George Baker, Deborah Watling, Rosalie Crutchley, David Langton. 72min
Potter cleverly weaves dramatised excerpts from Alice in Wonderland with the perceived reality of CL Dodgson’s obsession with Alice Liddell, his inspiration for the work. Potter is able to examine Dodgson’s (Lewis Caroll’s) feelings of guilt to draw connections between the complexity of the Reverend’s many neuroses and his most famous fantasy. The play is directed by Gareth Davies with a beguiling simplicity that brings Caroll’s famous creations to life, and draws fine performances from a distinguished cast.
Thu 10 July 18:30 NFT1
TV Preview: The Mill + Panel Q&A
Channel 4 2014. Dir Susan Tully. With Kerrie Hayes, Matthew McNulty, Sacha Parkinson. Series 2 Episode 1. 48min
The Mill, inspired by the archive at Quarry Bank Mill, was a huge drama breakout hit of 2013. It returns with a distinctly ‘worm’s eye view’ of costume drama. Set in the early 19th century, the six-part series depicts a moment in history when the working classes were beginning to demand a say in their own lives. This is a time of the great Chartist rallies and the birth of modern democracy.
After the screening we discuss bringing history to life with writer John Fay and from the cast, Kerrie Hayes, Matthew McNulty and Sacha Parkinson.
Sun 13 July 13:00 NFT1
Film Funday: Favourite BBC Children’s Characters
We’ll take you on a journey celebrating 60 years of the finest BBC Children’s characters by screening episodes from shows such as Bagpuss, Bob the Builder, Pingu, the Teletubbies and Sarah and Duck, while introducing you to some of the characters themselves and the people who helped bring them to life. This is a family-friendly opportunity to learn what happens behind the scenes on a popular TV show. We’ll also announce the winners of the recent BBC/BFI/Radio Times poll to find a favourite character from each decade since the 50s.
Tue 15 July 20:15 NFT2
Play for Today: Angels Are So Few
BBC 1970. Dir Gareth Davies. With Tom Bell, Christine Hargreaves, Susan Richards, Erik Chitty. 63min
Angels Are So Few begins with the words ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’ (Hebrews 13.i). Michael is an attractive vagrant who inveigles himself into ordinary suburban homes claiming to be an angel, yet wherever he goes death is not far away. For lonely housewife Cynthia, Michael (played with great charisma by Tom Bell) represents a chance for a sexual encounter but how can Michael square sex with his status as an angel? Classic Potter themes emerge from the destabilising effects of the outsider, to his own guilt and shame about sex.
+ Play for Today: Only Make Believe
BBC 1973. Dir Robert Knights. With Keith Barron, Georgina Hale, Rowena Cooper, Alun Armstrong. 74min
This play is directly about the process of writing Angels Are So Few, and once again stars Keith Barron as Potter’s alter ego – a writer dealing with the emotional fallout of his wife having just left him. When an attractive temp (Hale) is sent to type out the writer’s latest play she stirs in him all the feelings of guilt and disgust that are to motivate his writing. Only Make Believe is a complex meditation on Potter’s creative process as well as his inner-most psychology, and a must see for anyone who wants to fully understand the man and his work.
Fri 18 July 18:10 NFT2
BBC Children’s TV Archive Rarities from the 50s and 60s
To complement the BBC poll celebrating the Greatest Children’s TV Characters, we present this vintage cornucopia of oddities and rarities featuring the monochrome-era stars of BBC Children’s TV such as: Muffin the Mule, Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben and Sooty. We will also include clips, news items,
tributes and rare, behind the scenes footage of many TV favourites. It may be easy to imagine we’re travelling back to a less noisy time of simpler
pleasures, but from a modern perspective some of this material – though undeniably nostalgic – is also decidedly surreal! Are you sitting
comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
Play for Today: Schmoedipus
BBC 1974. Dir Barry Davis. With Anna Cropper, Tim Curry, John Carson, Bob Hoskins. 67min
Elizabeth’s husband is away at the office when Glen turns up on her doorstep, purporting to be her long lost child. Glen simply wants to relive the lost childhood his real mother denied him, and what follows is a fascinating, Oedipal exploration of the sexual games and power play prevalent within relationships. Anna Cropper and Tim Curry have a magical chemistry, and there’s an unexpected early cameo from the late Bob Hoskins. There’s also a twist in the tale that leaves us questioning everything, with that unique Potter ambiguity towards what is real and what is imagined.
+ Play for Today: Brimstone and Treacle
BBC 1976. Dir Barry Davis. With Denholm Elliott, Michael Kitchen, Patricia Lawrence, Michelle Newell. 73min
Brimstone and Treacle was famously banned in 1976 for depicting the rape of a disabled girl by the devil, and it was over ten years before the play was finally transmitted in 1987. Ironically, it was the very act of violation that brings salvation as Patsy is healed. Faith and redemption and man’s powerlessness in the face of evil are the themes that lie at the heart of this play, and the brilliance of the writing and performances now shines through, unencumbered by the controversy that surrounded the play at the time.
Sat 19 July 12:10 NFT3
Pennies from Heaven
BBC 1978. Dir Piers Haggard. With Bob Hoskins, Cheryl Campbell, Kenneth Colley, Gemma Craven. Eps 1 & 2: 73 + 80min. Interval. Ep3: 80min. Interval. Eps 4 & 5: 75 + 80min
All of the themes that Potter had developed in earlier works seem to mature and deepen in Pennies from Heaven. Finding a creative confidence in the unique, dramatic juxtaposing of drama and music, he discovered a new form for the TV series. With a heartbreaking performance from Bob Hoskins as Arthur, the character became an everyman figure that captured something universal in the human experience, while Piers Haggard’s superb direction brought the musical sequences vividly to life.
+ Episode 6 (85min) + Panel Discussion: Echo of a Song
Join our distinguished panel as we examine the unique use of popular music in Potter’s work from Pennies from Heaven to The Singing Detective and Lipstick on Your Collar. Panel to include director Piers Haggard, producer Kenith Trodd, producer John Wyver, and actors Cheryl Campbell and Kenneth Colley (work permitting – please check bfi.org.uk for final confirmation).
Joint ticket available £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.50 less)
Tue 22 July 18:30 NFT2
Rain on the Roof
LWT-Pennies from Heaven Ltd 1980. Dir Alan Bridges. With Cheryl Campbell, Malcolm Stoddard, Michael Culver, Ewan Stewart. 74min
Potter’s search for innocence unsullied by cynicism and sex is explored through the character of young Billy (Stewart), who is unable to read or write and is struggling to cope with the recent death of his father. When he’s confronted with the cruelty surrounding Janet’s (Campbell) failing marriage, Billy takes refuge in a radical form of religion and is pushed to extreme actions. Cheryl Campbell makes palpable the pain of her character and the terrible consequences of her need for Billy’s purity as a substitute for the perceived grime of her own life.
Sun 27 July 14:00 NFT3
Lipstick on Your Collar (the Complete Series)
Ch4 1993. Dir Renny Rye. With Ewan McGregor, Nicholas Farrell, Bernard Hill, Douglas Henshall, Maggie Steed. Eps 1 & 2: 116min. Interval. Eps 3 & 4: 120min. Interval. Eps 5 & 6: 124min
Returning to the semi-autobiographical subject he had used for Lay Down Your Arms in 1970, Potter once more explores the world of the army, this time from the viewpoint of two young privates entering the establishment world of ‘Army Majors and Empire’ in 1956. This is a period that fascinated Potter, and he explores the conflicts between generations through the use of rock‘n’roll music. He also uses this popular form of music to comment on the action and reveal his characters’ inner lives, as he had done in Pennies from Heaven. A young Ewan McGregor brings just the right mix of cockiness and deep insecurity to the role of Private Hopper.
Tickets £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.50 less)
Wed 30 July 18:20 NFT2
Screen Two: Visitors
BBC 1987. Dir Piers Haggard. With John Standing, Nicola Pagett, Michael Brandon, Glynis Barber, Robert MacNaughton. 90min
In Visitors, based on his stage play Sufficient Carbohydrate, Potter writes some sparklingly acidic dialogue in what is for him a surprisingly naturalistic piece, but the theme of the outsider as a destructive force is ever-present. When two couples go on holiday to an idyllic Italian villa, sexual tensions boil over into a series of catastrophic events. John Standing is magnificent as the urbane Englishman driven to distraction by his wife’s infidelity. As one couple’s psychologically damaged son watches the grown-ups’ moral turpitude, he longs for avenging furies to arrive…
Champions’ priority booking: June 2
Members’ priority booking opens: June 3
Public booking opens: June 10
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.