mon 21/05/2018

The Town, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

The Town, ITV1

The Town, ITV1

Strong characters and promising plot deserved more time to develop

This town ain't big enough for all of them, especially Mark (Andrew Scott, centre)

Plaudits to ITV for their recent campaign of new drama, even if the results have been patchy. The best ones have been well worth persevering with, and The Bletchley Circle and Tony Marchant's Leaving have wedged themselves most firmly in the mind.

So where does The Town fit in? Well, it would have had a better chance of evolving into something truly memorable if it had been given more than three episodes, and the curse of the short series has become the scourge of British TV drama on whatever channel. Interestingly, the makers of The Killing argue that it's actually cheaper to make longer series, because costs plummet once you've got your cast, crew and sets assembled.  

Meanwhile back at The Town, there was something interesting and unusual about it despite its disappointing brevity. Writer Mike Bartlett (who authored the recent stage adaptation of Chariots of Fire, among other things) successfuly established an air of  mystery and disorientation with the opening episode, in which Mark (Andrew Scott) returned to his home town from London following the shocking and inexplicable suicide of his parents. Two of the odder facts about this were that the suicides occurred in the midst of an apparently calm and normal suburban family set-up, and that the dead couple were played by Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond, who never appeared again after the opening few minutes.

Having played Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes, Scott now took on the sleuthing role. Angry and confused as he was, he was also convinced - out of gut feeling more than any concrete evidence - that there was more to the deaths than met the eye. Murder, in his increasingly agitated view, could not be ruled out. When the investigating policeman, Inspector Franks (an edgy Douglas Hodge), told him he should just bury his parents and get on with his life, his inner thermostat blew a fuse.

As it turned out, he was absolutely right, and as he prised out the murky secrets of his mother's love affair with Franks and his parents' shameful involvement in a hit-and-run accident, he also tore the lid off various strains of unhappiness and dissatisfaction affecting the citizens of the humdrum home town he'd left behind. Mark was vaguely reminiscent of a low-rent Clint Eastwood, wreaking a terrible vengeance in some fly-blown border town, except he didn't have a gun, nobody chewed tobacco and there were magpies instead of vultures circling overhead.

The ending was too pat and truncated - there was a tell-all confession that suddenly explained everything, and Mark found some equilibrium by getting back with his old girlfriend Alice - but where Bartlett had scored was in the creation of a batch of intriguingly off-kilter characters. Mark's sister Jodie (Avigail Tlalim, pictured left) turned in a convincing portrayal of a teenager afflicted with grief, rage and stampeding hormones, yet still remained likeable in all her volcanic stroppiness. Martin Clunes played Len, the town mayor, like a bullying and bibulous headmaster, with a bit of Boris Johnson for good measure, and it would have been fun to see his eccentricities stretched a bit further in a longer series.

Julia McKenzie was rather touching as the dead woman's mother, determined to "keep buggering on" rather than succumbing to grief and depression. As for the pair of ditsy lesbians running a local florist, they were virtually irrelevant to the story, but provided excellent entertainment. The Town will have to go down as a promising idea which didn't get the backing it deserved. We'll be hearing from Mike Bartlett again, though.

 
Martin Clunes played Len, the town mayor, like a bullying and bibulous headmaster, with a bit of Boris Johnson for good measure

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My first thought, during the broadcast, was that I've never seen Martin Clunes better. (This is somewhat backhanded: I wasn't a fan. However, I thought his performance, up to the last ad break anyway, was magisterial.) And then I thought, oh woe, and all that. Quel disappointment. Rather silly ending. (I tried going over how the Clunes break in and double murder would work: it didn't.) But today, I'm mostly struck by how moral the whole thing was. (Oscar Wilde said his bit here. You know it, you don't need me.) The parents killed Clunes' son: they died. Martin Clunes sought retribution (understandably, but still): he's going to prison (assuming the police do this right). The others basically get life, freedom, and love. In the end, I'm disappointed. The just desserts were too just. Life isn't fair. Hamlet is a bit of a nutter, true, but basically blameless. He dies. Stories should have some Greek tragedy, some Brothers Grimm awfulness. Life isn't fair. In short, The Town was too neat. If I were really mean, it was a three-episode "don't drink and drive (at Xmas)" campaign ad.

The Town was terrible. Trite. predictable and hamly overacted by an impressive (on paper at least) cast. It shows how even decent actors can't work with a poorly executed script and bad direction (it's the only explanation for all-round wooden performances from actors who have otherwise proved their credentials in other TV/filmwork). It really screamed ITV! unfortunately.

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