TV Preview: True Love and Primeval
ON SEEING the cast list of True Love, a series of five one-off dramas showing this week after the news, my first thought was of a certain advert for chocolate supposedly favoured by ambassadors.
David Tennant, Billie Piper, Jane Horrocks, David Morrissey, Vicky McClure, Lacey Turner, Jenny Agutter, Alexander Siddig, Jamie Winstone, Ashley Walters and various others: oh, BBC, you are really spoiling us!
Sadly, despite such a strong cast list of British telly talent, True Love is about as deep an exploration of modern relationships as a quiz in a women’s magazine.
In episode one, Tennant plays a happily married man whose old girlfriend (McClure) suddenly reappears in his life: will he have an affair with her? In episode two, Walters plays a frustrated young father who sees a pretty girl (Winstone) at a bus stop: will he have an affair with her? In episode three, Piper is a schoolteacher whose (female) pupil has a crush on her: will she have an affair with her? In episode four, Horrocks is an unhappy empty-nester who meets a man (Siddig) and … OK, I think you get the picture. The stories are all set in Margate and there’s a slight attempt at crossover, in that sometimes you see the characters from another episode in the background.
It’s all quite believable; the performances, naturally, are fine and the situations, of course, are relatable. The problem is that the stories are terribly, terribly dull.
Everything plays out exactly as you might expect from the initial set-up, with no twists or surprises. Everybody’s dialogue is full of those clichéd phrases that we all use: “What are you trying to say?” “What about how I feel?” “We can’t do this!” In between there are lots of … silences, in which people wander around by the seaside … thinking about stuff or (if they’re being cheated on) staring out of the window … moodily. Presumably for ironic purposes, the theme tune is Dionne Warwick singing What The World Needs Now (Is Love, Sweet Love).
And you never come to understand why any of this is happening. What strange hold does McClure’s character have over Tennant’s, since they don’t appear to have anything in common apart from having dated as teenagers? Walters and Winstone’s characters have exchanged roughly four sentences and had sex a few times before they’re suddenly confessing undying love for each other, but why? Perhaps the idea is that love is inexplicable and you can’t really ever say why it’s one person and not another. But an awful lot of films and TV series have managed quite well to convince us that two characters are meant to be together by showing us a spark in their conversations and a physical bond that goes beyond endless soft-focus shots of love-making with nothing behind it.
So what went wrong with True Love? Most likely, the heavily-touted semi-improvisational technique which writer/director Dominic Savage chose to use, giving the actors a character and story outline and encouraging them to make up the dialogue as they went along. That’s not a terrible idea in itself: film director Mike Leigh has made a career out of letting his casts improvise. But once they’ve worked things out, an actual finished script is created and then filmed, without deviation. Here it seems as if Savage has just let his actors ramble on then edited the resulting scenes, so that although the plot is his, the dialogue is natural and unscripted.
But just because someone’s a great actor doesn’t mean they are necessarily a good writer – in fact, even a good writer would be more likely to come up with something great if they had time to work on it rather than splurge it onto the page.
In prioritising realistic performances and situations, Savage has forgotten that there’s more to drama, even realistic drama, than being lifelike. And, sadly, in the end this is less like an ambassador’s treat, more like a diplomatic disaster: what a waste.
There’s not a shred of realism in Primeval, returning to STV this week (though due to the channel-sharing deal which saved it from cancellation, this fifth series has already been shown on the Watch channel). Remember when it started, this time-tripping dinosaur drama was touted as a serious rival to Doctor Who, which had just triumphantly recaptured the nation’s hearts? It didn’t pan out that way and Primeval settled into a lightweight rut which can please only diehard genre fans or undemanding kids.
They seem to have run out of good monsters, too, as this new episode involves the plucky team of investigators – her from S Club 7 and, er, the rest – pursuing a Giant Burrowing Insect from the future. Yes, that’s its actual uninspired name, capital letters and all. Anyway, it turns out this entomophobiac’s nightmare comes from a nest in an infected building, so they end up (spoiler alert) gassing it to death. In effect, they’re sci-fi Rentokil.
In a month when the death of the great Ray Bradbury reminded us of its potential, it seems a shame that a once-thrillingly imaginative genre should so often end up churning out dopey fluff like this (and it’s not a budget issue either, as anyone still baffled by Ridley Scott’s Prometheus will know). Still, there is fun to be had watching actors manfully flee in terror from a big rubbery thing, unless of course the idea of a giant insect makes you want to run away screaming yourself.
• True Love is on BBC1
• Primeval is on STV
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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