It’s often sensible to exercise a certain amount of caution around the BBC’s cottage industry of biopics about much-loved entertainers. More often than not, they tend to treat the remarkable talent of their subjects as an irrelevant sideshow, preferring instead to wallow in the murky shallows of their supposedly hellish private lives. Prurient, voyeuristic and occasionally mean-spirited, they’re usually about as sensitive as a cannonball to the groin.
So it’s with some relief that I recommend BEST POSSIBLE TASTE, a warm, witty and respectful tribute to the ground-breaking DJ and comedian Kenny Everett that, while never shying away from the more troubled aspects of his character, actually goes out of its way to celebrate his genius.
Closer in spirit to the delightful Eric & Ernie and Tony Roche’s winningly irreverent Holy Flying Circus – Ev’s comic alter-egos, from Sid Snot to Cupid Stunt, act as a Greek chorus throughout – it’s clearly a labour of love from screenwriter Tim Whitnall, whose ability to write about comedians with affectionate insight was previously established by his award-winning stage-play Morecambe.
With Ev’s ex-wife and soul-mate Lee and his key collaborator Barry Cryer both acting as consultants, Whitnall’s film abounds with a sense of anecdotal charm and detail that so many of these biopics lack. Sure, it begins with our hero recovering from a suicide attempt, and pivots around his struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality, but it never treats him crassly. Instead he’s portrayed as an inveterate rebel with a self-destructive streak, whose total mastery of his craft clashed with his private anxieties. That’s artists for you.
Framed as an unorthodox love story between Ev and Lee, it’s a touching portrait of a sensitive, brilliant, loveable, maddening man trying to find his place in the world, before tragically passing away years before his time. Newcomer Oliver Lansley is simply outstanding in the lead role, inhabiting Ev’s various personae – including his softly-spoken actual self – with uncanny accuracy and depth. If this magnificent performance isn’t rewarded with a BAFTA next year, then I’ll shake my fist at the sun in anger. That’ll show them.
Ex-Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly provides excellent support as the strong-willed Lee, and there are even a few colourful cameos from Freddie Mercury, Michael Winner and Dickie Attenborough (the latter essayed by Simon Callow in Full-Callow mode).
While many of these biopics often look as though they were made for the price of a packet of Swan Vestas, director James Strong does wonders with his resources here, producing a beautiful, inventive piece that its late subject may well have approved of. Alas, the budget cuts at BBC 4 suggest that this will be their last drama for quite some time. But at least they’ve gone out on a high.
From the sublime to the irredeemably awful. Created, presumably on a napkin, by US dramatist Frank Spotnitz (The X Files), HUNTED is a new eight-part thriller co-produced by Kudos, home of Spooks, and US cable titans HBO. Normally the sort of hackneyed, risible garbage that HBO wouldn’t touch with an executive bargepole, it’s held together with every heaving cliché in the book, as Melissa George – a fine actress, who deserves better – goes through the motions as a beautiful yet emotionally remote private intelligence agent who infiltrates the family of a corrupt millionaire.
Peppered with outbursts of nasty violence, Hunted is absolute hokum, but not in a good way. Like 24 without the sense of comic-book fun, it takes itself incredibly seriously, with various migraine-intense characters interacting in that terse, furtive, flippant way that fictional spies always do. All that’s required of George is that she pout and kick the occasional ass, while suffering the indignity of pretending to be haunted by traumatic childhood flashbacks that resemble nothing more than the Papa Lazarou coda from the League of Gentlemen Christmas Special.
Piles of cash have clearly been wasted on this one-dimensional drivel. Watching it feels like an affront to common decency.
Fortunately, HBO remind us what they’re good at with the return of BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Now in its third season, the roaring’ 20s Prohibition drama continues without one of its hitherto key characters, Jimmy Darmody, whose murder at the climax of season two was, while inevitable, shockingly carried out by his surrogate father Nucky Thompson (the great Steve Buscemi).
The abiding theme this year, then, is the transformation of Nucky from being “half a gangster” to a full-blown lord of misrule. It’s a bold development, and one that could backfire if handled badly. Although blatantly corrupt and responsible for orchestrating acts of violence from afar, Nucky was always an essentially likeable anti-hero. But it’s impossible to sympathise with him now, which may be a problem as the series progresses.
Nevertheless, it returns with a strong opening episode introducing a dangerous new antagonist, Gyp Rosetti, a ludicrously thin-skinned gangster set to cause future headaches for the permanently harassed Nucky. Rosetti may be a rather broad and familiar character, but he’s still an entertaining addition to one of the most compelling TV dramas of the day. It sure is swell to have it back.