It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in June 2015. This month’s output is devoted purely to the fourth part of the ongoing Dennis Potter season, this time focusing on the themes of sex and death. If that doesn’t sound much, you should probably see how many showings that amounts to, given it includes showings of all of Casanova, Blackeyes, Karaoke, Cold Lazarus, and The Singing Detective, as well as Blue Remembered Hills and Double Dare.
There’s also Where Adam Stood, Potter’s 1976 free adaptation of the autobiography of naturalist and fundamental Christian Edmond Gosse, whose father had trouble reconciling the Bible with the latest works of Charles Darwin, causing Gosse all manner of difficulties. Don’t want to wait to see it? Well, you don’t have to as it’s this week’s Wednesday Play (on Thursday):
Sunday 5 July
BBC 1971. Dirs John Glenister, Mark Cullingham. With Frank Finlay, Norman Rossington, Patrick Newell, Christine Noonan.
Eps 1 – 2 (110min), interval, Eps 3 – 4 (105min), interval, Eps 5 – 6 (110min)
Potter was keen to stress the relevance of this series’ themes for a contemporary audience: ‘Casanova was concerned with religious and sexual freedom, and these are things we have to address ourselves to now.’ His Casanova (a superb Frank Finlay) is a complex mix of sexual philanderer and philosopher. The dazzlingly clever use of flashbacks to tell Casanova’s life from the confinement of his prison cell is designed to emphasise the power of memory and conscience, and the search for salvation as he becomes imprisoned by the greatest of all jailors – old age.
Tickets £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.70 less)
Tuesday 7 July
Play for Today: Double Dare + intro by Kika Markham
BBC 1976. Dir John MacKenzie. With Alan Dobie, Kika Markham, Malcolm Terris. 70min
In this controversial play Potter uses the device of a man with writer’s block (as he had done in Only Make Believe and was to return to in The Singing Detective) to explore the boundaries between the writer’s imagined world and his own sexual fantasies. Brilliantly constructed, edited and directed, this is TV drama at its audacious best.
+ Where Adam Stood
BBC 1976. Dir Brian Gibson. With Alan Badel, Max Harris, Ronald Hines, Jean Boht. 75min
Potter’s adaptation of Father & Son, the 1907 autobiography of the naturalist and fundamental Christian Edmond Gosse, resulted in a film that he held in high regard. What no doubt attracted him to the story was Gosse’s father’s struggle to reconcile his Old Testament beliefs with the newly emerging work of Charles Darwin. As the father retreats further into a world of religious prejudices, he’s unaware of the effect his turmoil is having on his young son.
Sunday 12 July
BBC 1989. Dir Dennis Potter. With Gina Bellman, Michael Gough, Carol Royle, Nigel Planer.
Eps 1 – 2 (95min), interval, Eps 3 – 4 (102min)
Described on its opening night as ‘the tragic story of a beautiful fashion model who falls victim to male exploitation,’ this mini-series was Potter’s directorial debut. Controversy raged as to whether it was exploitative of women, or actually – as Potter had intended – a complex exposé of male sexual guilt. Whichever way you read it, this work remains a fascinating and brave achievement that’s not easily categorised.
+The Late Show
BBC 1989. 6min
Shown on the night that Blackeyes first aired, this is the six-minute introduction that Potter made to contextualise the series and lay out what he was trying to achieve with it.
+The Media Show
Channel 4 1989. 15min
Germaine Greer, Fay Weldon, Jo Brand and other women express their divergent views on Blackeyes (and Potter’s attitude to women across his work) in the week that his new drama aired.
Tuesday 14 July
Karaoke + intro by director Renny Rye
BBC-Channel 4 1996. Dir Renny Rye. With Albert Finney, Richard E Grant, Anna Chancellor, Julie Christie.
Eps 1 – 2 (100min), interval, Eps 3 – 4 (125min)
Daniel (Potter’s alter ego), on being told he has only months to live, replies ‘I’m back in charge of my own story, I can take control of it now.’ And in his final work, commissioned with its sequel Cold Lazarus, that’s precisely what Potter does. Daniel is driven to the edge of insanity when he starts to hear the dialogue from the film he‘s just written, but salvation comes in finding the girl of his dreams. Once again playing with ideas of identity, and reality versus fantasy, Potter faces his own impending death in a way that’s both enlightening and moving.
Tuesday 21 July
Screen Two: Midnight Movie
BBC 1993. Dir Renny Rye. With Jim Carter, Louise Germaine, Brian Dennehy, Colin Salmon. 96min.
A provincial lawyer obsessed with a B-movie sex symbol becomes equally obsessed with her daughter, but he fails to realise the psychological damage her mother’s reputation as a nymphomaniac has done to this young girl. Willingly, he lets his mundane life slip out of control as his sexual fantasies take over; but what is real and what is imagined?
Thursday 23 July
Cold Lazarus + intro by producer Kenith Trodd
Channel 4-BBC 1996. Dir Renny Rye. With Albert Finney, Frances de la Tour, Ciarán Hinds, Henry Goodman.
Eps 1 – 2 (105min), interval, Eps 3 – 4 (125min)
Potter’s last work, written during the final weeks of his life, is a sequel to Karaoke and a dire warning about the power of unfettered capitalism. The year is 2368 and Daniel’s cryogenically frozen head is now being used in an experiment to retrieve snippets of his life. On hearing of this, the Siltz Media Corporation plan to publish his memories worldwide. In his thinly veiled attack on the Murdoch empire, Potter brilliantly conjures a nightmare world in which even our most private thoughts are exploited for profit.
Sunday 26 July
The Singing Detective
BBC 1986. Dir Jon Amiel. With Michael Gambon, Alison Steadman, Patrick Malahide, Janet Suzman, Jim Carter.
Eps 1 – 2 (140min), interval (20min), Ep 3 (65min), interval (45min), Eps 4 – 5 (130min), interval (30min), Ep 6 (80min)
This is your chance to experience the series that’s widely regarded as Potter’s finest achievement, screened over the course of one day. The Singing Detective blends elements of psychological thriller and film noir with familiar Potter themes of sexual guilt and writer’s block as we’re taken on the most incredible journey of the inner psyche of Philip Marlow (Gambon) as he lies stricken by extreme psoriasis, a debilitating condition from which Potter himself suffered. In entering Marlow’s feverish mind, Potter creates some of the most memorable images and routines ever realised in TV drama.
+ Q&A with Alison Steadman, Janet Suzman, Jon Amiel (via Skype) and Kenith Trodd
Our distinguished panel will discuss The Singing Detective and the importance of Dennis Potter in taking TV drama to new heights and creating a dramatic form unique to television.
Tickets £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.70 less).
Please check bfi.org.uk for updates, as these guests are work permitting
Wednesday 29 July
Play for Today: Blue Remembered Hills
BBC 1979. Dir Brian Gibson. With Helen Mirren, Janine Duvitski, Michael Elphick, Colin Welland. 72min
As he had done with Stand Up Nigel Barton in 1965, Potter returned to the idea of adults playing children to explore the strange dramatic power and chemistry that ensues. Without the sentimentality that real children would bring, the actors were able to highlight the cruelty of a child’s world devoid of any moral compass, as an idyllic day at play turns into a catastrophic tragedy.
+ Without Walls Special: An Interview with Dennis Potter
Channel 4 1994. 70min
This remarkably frank interview with Melvyn Bragg was to be Potter’s last. Knowing this, he used it to set out his stall, reveal much about his life and his innermost fears, and to plead for the protection of something he believed in so passionately: the power of the television play.
Champions’ priority booking: June 1 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: June 2 11.30am
Public booking opens: June 9 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.