Thursday, 12 December 2013

Notes on ITV's Lucan

Caught the first episode of this last night. So far it's fine social-realist TV drama in the tradition of Our Friends in the North, Tinker Tailor, Red Riding, etc, and certainly better than anything the Beeb have done this year I reckon. (Definitely better than last year's shambolic effort in this regard.)

There's quite an interesting political thread running through it, too. Christopher Eccleston is deliciously demonic as gambling club owner John Aspinall. An unusual amount of script space is given over to Aspinall's Randian dialogues full of references to Alpha Males, biological determinism, the survival of the fittest, the importance of accepting the growth of an inferior underclass, and all that shite. He's basically a walking Adam Curtis theory, a right-wing crank grumbling about the power of "the Miners" in social-democratic post-war Britain, a sinister Blimp full of embittered determination to reassert what he calls the "natural order". Of course, the character is all the more shady because his views will become depressingly mainstream some ten years after the early-seventies moment that provides the backdrop to Lucan's narrative.

Another interesting thing is the way this class narrative is synthesised with a powerful feminist argument. Egged on by Aspinall's reactionary Alpha Male spiel, Lord Lucan starts to intimidate his wife Veronica - mentally and physically - in an attempt to get her committed so he can win custody of his children. Fortunately, this is the progressive early seventies rather than the Downtonite 1920s, so the courts decide in favour of the independent, sound-of-mind woman against the imperious, bullying aristo. The tragedy is that the working-class nanny who has supported Veronica in the run-up to the trial is bludgeoned to death by a crazed Lucan at the end of the first episode.

The symbolism here - of a brutal, quasi-Darwinian patriarchy reasserting its authority after a period of "effeminate" egalitarianism - is not difficult to grasp. The unheimlich contemporary relevance - bearing in mind certain recent uber-Darwinian pronouncements of the British Conservative Party - is also striking.

And then you realise who Aspinall's step-nephew is:

There can be no more denying it.

The conspiracy theory is the true realist art form of the twenty-first century.

[Cross-posted from]


Paul Hebron said...

I was half and half on this one: looked a bit interesting, but would it be crap like all the other near historical figure dramas (that Great Train Robbers one I guarantee will be shit, I can sense it).

In other news, I've finished watching The Paradise (only just realized it#s based no something by Zola) and it's definitely, while crap, got an interesting vibe, basically every week somebody comes up with a new consumerism mainstay. A counter-part to the better (i.e. hammier) Mr Selfridge which has a bizarrely a-historical focus on celebrities and PR.

On comedies The Security Men, and Great Night Out, looked like they were playing for the New Great British Comedy stakes and fucked up hugely by being boring, offensive and obvious.

The Mill was dreck. Weirdly wishy-washy at the same time as being melodramatic rubbish. Also really dark, as in literally, impossible to see anything.

Hebburn looks like it might have been a look. Utopia managed one cracking episode and then turned to sludge.

Most of the good stuff I've watched has been old. Our Friends in the North, Boys from the Blackstuff, GBH, and so on.

Alex Niven said...

No I think Lucan's pretty good, largely because the subject is so enigmatic and suggestive. It's only a two-parter, so perhaps the OFITN comparisons are a bit of a stretch. But it does register the embittered pathology of the right under post-war social democracy very well (old-school paternalism morphing into neo-primitive patriarchy?).

Haven't seen any of the other series. I guess a post on Paradise could be shoe-horned into the 90s-present blog?

I have very mixed feelings about Hebburn. I thought the first series was okay, and thought some of the flaws would be ironed out in a second series. But the writing just isn't up to it. And some of the performances are very weak. The lead guy is good, and the granny steals the show, but the lass who plays his wife is a really bad actor, and the Vic Reeves/Gina McKee pairing doesn't really work.

That said, there are some interesting observations about the north-east in the 2010s - the depressed housing market, the unemployment, etc. There was a good scene where the main characters are fishing in the Tyne where the shipyards used to be. And at risk of sounding like a bellend, it does have an undeniable "underlying humanist warmth".

Paul Hebron said...

I've not written anything for ages. Being unemployed bizarrely seems to swallow all my time/energy up. There's really at the end of the day very little to be excited about on British tv. Owen Jones in his lecture had good points about the value of working class comedy and drama as creating a sense of culture/opposition, but the moment to make/recreate that's long passed on that medium in my opinion. It seems too enclosed now with advertisers, neoliberal tv management, and just general poor quality production, writing, acting, etc.

There's a centre to all this, the consumerism nostalgia shows like Paradise/Selfridges, the new kinder nobility stuff like Downton and the canned Upstairs Downstairs rehash, plus the stuff Jones rails against like the On Benefits and Proud show.