Saturday, 14 December 2013

Top 5 British TV dramas

High Five! These are the best telly programmes this nation has ever produced. Surprise, surprise, every member of the list was commissioned by the BBC. The closest ITV came to squirming their way onto my very exclusive list is with the Cracker series (although Morse is up there too). Please add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

5. Our Friends in the North

Newcastle upon Tyne, a city stuffed with northern soul, buried in coal dust and soaked in the murky waters of an industrial river: the perfect location for a grand social saga. Peter Flannery wrote this story of four working class friends in twentieth-century Tyneside, enthused with the same nimble sensitivity to life’s pitfalls as Dickens in his prime. Each of the nine episodes is set during a general election year, charting the political character of the provincial north as well as the capital. No scandal is left ignored. Daniel Craig, Christopher Ecclestone, Mark Strong and Gina Mckee head up one of the best small screen ensembles ever assembled.

4. State of Play

In 2003 the Beeb unleashed a scathing political drama on a public disillusioned by the Iraq war and dodgy dossiers. State of Play follows a team of determined journalists exposing Whitehall corruption and justifying the existence of print media in the process. James McAvoy made his name among a cast of big-hitters like John Simm and Kelly Macdonald. Russell Crowe’s film adaptation inevitably failed to replicate the same pulsating tension.

3. Band of Brothers (BBC and HBO co-production)

As soon as the polite tones of the orchestral intro reach my ears, I return to 1945; to the frozen hell of Bastogne, the foreboding peaks of Currahee Mountain, the dark Normandy sky spotted with pale gliding parachutes. The role of America’s First Airborne from D-Day to Berlin is told with an unnerving historical accuracy. Few programmes are as poignant as this study of real people in a strange, destructive world. Every performance is worthy of praise but David Schwimmer needs to be mentioned for playing totally against type and making us feel sympathy for a very ambiguous man.

2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

John Le Carre’s superior spy narrative is beautifully encapsulated in the opening title sequence. Russian dolls are slowly peeled away but, like the story’s ultimate conclusion, has no revelatory end (see video below). All we are left with is questions without answers, a perfect example of allowing the audience to find their own explanations. None of the puzzles will make sense unless you closely consider them afterwards. The bespectacled hero, George Smiley, is portrayed with understated, minimalist sincerity by Alec Guinness. Having read the book, watched the film and viewed the series on DVD, I can safely say that the television adaptation is the definitive version of the espionage tale.

1. The Singing Detective

An unsurpassed masterpiece. A national triumph. The Singing Detective is all these things and more. Michael Gambon plays a failed writer biding his time on a dull hospital ward. His inflamed psoriasis makes him look how he feels: a furious grouch filled with bitterness and regret. The episodes serve as pieces of a majestic jigsaw, unravelling the mystery of a damaged mind. Dennis Potter’s semi-autobiographical script tackles issues of tragedy and hope with a keen honesty and self-awareness. Truth to fiction, boy to man, and memory to reality fuse in an emotive meditation on modern misery. The British idiosyncrasies are so distinct that it would be impossible for any other country to produce a story like this. Watch it and weep.


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