wed 17/07/2024

DVD: Plays for Britain | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Plays for Britain

DVD: Plays for Britain

Seventies obscurities from Poliakoff and others, valuably revisited

Round Britain: Jimmy (Bill Buffery) and Warboys (Paul Davis) in the Alan Clarke-directed Fast Hands

Plays for Britain was a short-lived ITV equivalent to the BBC’s long-running Play for Today, and doesn’t suffer in comparison. Strong writers, directors and actors on their way up – Alan Clarke, Stephen Poliakoff, Howard Brenton, Ray Winstone, Pete Postlethwaite, Miriam Margoyles – all do good work in the sole 1976 series’ six one-hour plays, complete here.

Brenton’s The Paradise Run follows three soldiers in a Northern Ireland rendered almost science-fictionally non-specific, though director Michael Apted makes the terror of a soldier’s rural ambush and execution clammily authentic. Future Chariots of Fire star Ian Charleson as a sensitive officer is one of several fine performances these DVDs disinter. Sheila Gish’s is another, slipping from glamorous trollop to tragic loneliness in The Life Swappers, Roger McGough’s farce of dead marriages and mutable identities. Poliakoff, meanwhile, takes a dry run at Close My Eyes with Hitting Town’s brother and sister, pictured below, acting on incestuous feelings as momentary relief from lives in “nasty and shabby”, IRA bomb-smashed London.

Brian Glover’s Sunshine in Brixton is one of two plays employing the social realism one might expect, but he observes imperfect, under-estimated black teenager Otis (Elvis Payne) with lively affection for schoolkids, including lanky, lippy class bully Ray Winstone, while proving that not every black face on Seventies TV was an un-nuanced as Love Thy Neighbour.

Alan Clarke, the future director of Scum and mentor of Winstone, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, is here too, and his handling of Fast Hands doesn’t disappoint, as a teenage boxer endures a brutal bout. Bodies are squeezed together on the screen under greenish light, as if characters are both cramped and submerged in claustrophobic council flats and corridors, but the centre-piece is six-and-a-half straight minutes of the fight, shot in close-up in the ring with the rhythm of the real, hurting thing.

If Plays for Britain was meant to take the nation’s pulse in 1976, it’s striking how essentially undated and accurate its impressions still seem.  

Poliakoff takes a dry run at Close My Eyes, as a brother and sister act on incestuous feelings in IRA bomb-smashed London.

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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