fri 01/07/2022

The Singapore Grip, ITV review - colonial clichés | reviews, news & interviews

The Singapore Grip, ITV review - colonial clichés

The Singapore Grip, ITV review - colonial clichés

Christopher Hampton’s lacklustre adaptation of JG Farrell fails to develop characters beyond caricature

Charles Dance: 'cast to type as a fading titan'

ITV’s Sunday evening costume drama slot is filled for the next six weeks with this lacklustre adaptation of JG Farrell’s satirical novel, The Singapore Grip.

Set in 1942, it was written in 1978 as the final part of his trilogy about British colonialism in Ireland, India and the Far East.

In the Seventies, Farrell was at the cutting edge of reappraising English colonial history, crafting ingenious novels that were both ripping yarns with colourful characters and refreshingly clear-eyed re-evaluations of manipulative expats and the damage they wrought in the countries they asset-stripped.

Unfortunately, instead of playing it straight, the cast in Christopher Hampton’s adaptation play their roles as broad caricatures. It’s all a bit stale, right down to the casting. There’s ruthless rubber magnate Walter Blackett (David Morrissey), his flaky son, his ditzy wife (an underused Jane Horrocks) and his vampish daughter Joan (Georgia Blizzard).

The Blacketts are all working hard to ensure their family comes out on top, with nary a moral qualm about the people they’re exploiting. Joan is set to seduce Matthew (Luke Treadaway), the rival heir apparent, but her biggest flirtation is with her daddy; Blizzard’s scenes with Morrissey, echo the queasy relationship between Trump and Ivanka.The Singapore GripThe always watchable Charles Dance is cast to type as a fading titan, enchanted by Vera, a mysterious Chinese refugee, played by Elizabeth Tan (pictured above). Familiar from soaps like Waterloo Road and Coronation Street, she has clearly been cast here for her resemblance to Anna May Wong. Tan plays Vera like every Western archetypal Chinese wily/innocent seductress. One can only hope that as the series develops, Tan is allowed to have some complexity and is joined by other actors of Asian origin. The Singapore Grip was obviously adapted and filmed before the recent heightened debates about on-screen representations of ethnic minorities on British screens, but even so, a little more thought could have gone into its writing and casting.

In an effort to grab the audience’s attention, the first episode opened with the Japanese assault on Singapore, a bit of gory devastation and CGI bombers never coming amiss. But it then cut back to six months earlier, and we were lavished with period costumes, glamorous parties, ragtime jazz, vintage cars and luxurious villas. Prettily enough filmed on location with Malaysia standing in for Singapore, this is period TV-directing by the numbers. Even the sound track is clichéd, alternating between “oriental” instrumentation for some moody atmospherics and over-editorialising jaunty jazz.

With the death of its most interesting actor before the opening episode ends, it’s hard to see audiences sticking with the series unless they simply can’t get enough of flowery frocks, unreconstructed nostalgia and broad acting.

Instead of playing it straight, the cast in this adaptation play their roles as broad caricatures


Editor Rating: 
Average: 1 (1 vote)

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Whoever wrote this review is an idiot who has not read the bookl. It is a brilliant adaptation of a very finely woven novel of huge historically accurate detail. Small moments of magical realism enliven. The characterisation is masterful. His other great novel, 'The Siege of Krishnapore' would be wonderfully realised in the hands of Christopher Hampton.

Yes, couldn’t agree more. Typical virtue signalling nonsense from someone who clearly hasn’t read the book or it’s companion volumes. Expat life was exactly what was portrayed on screen, perhaps even more exclusive. The reviewer clearly at ease with rewriting history to suit the mood of the day. What a joke you are, sir or madam Baron!

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