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A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL – BBC TV REVIEW

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL – BBC TV REVIEW

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Written by: Russell T Davies – Based on A Very English Scandal by John Preston

Starring: Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Monica Dolan, Alex Jennings, Blake Harrison, Eve Myles, Patricia Hodge etc.

Composer(s): Murray Gold

Production Company: BBC

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**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I’ve never been a fan of politicians. They are a necessary evil. Perhaps I shouldn’t blight a whole raft of people who may, in their hearts, believe they are trying to do well for their country.  But, I just cannot help feeling there is something not quite right with someone who wants to be in control or lead or rule. I’m of the view that power does corrupt the individual and even though they may begin with great altruistic tendencies they will, ultimately, be poisoned by the job. Or worse than that they have sociopathic tendencies and the prestige of being voted in will feed their greed and lust for control. How does one explain the amount of wars and conflicts there are? Humanity is greatly flawed and the leaders of the so-called free world are more flawed than most.

But, what alternative is there to the capitalist system we have?  Running a country and leading millions of various people must be tough; and difficult decisions must be made everyday. Many have tried the commune lifestyle and socialism has also led, in the Soviet Union and China for example, and, to dictatorial regimes replete with fear, repression and murder. Not that the West hasn’t had its fair share of Dictators and sociopathic leaders. General Franco in Spain is one such fascistic leader and our own Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher,  hiding within the illusion of democracy, crushed Union leaders, working class lives and whole industrial communities. As such, crooked and nefarious politicians are often a staple of film and television shows. A case in point is the BBC’s recent adaptation of John Preston’s book, A Very English Scandal.

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This strange true life tale focussed on the Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his relationship with a troubled young man called Norman Scott. What first starts off as an illicit but touching love story soon becomes a desperate, twisted and darkly amusing black comedy of insane proportions.  First off, Thorpe and Scott are portrayed with absolute brilliance by Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Both sterling film actors they bring gravitas, sparkling chemistry and humour to their respective roles; while Alex Jennings, Adrian Scarborough, Eve Myles and Patricia Hodge also excel in supporting roles. Furthermore, acclaimed director Stephen Frears ties the strands of Russell T. Davies brilliant script, expertly switching between comedy and heightened drama, without losing tonal control.

Set against the backdrop of English Parliament and the United Kingdom’s homophobic laws which outlawed gay sex, Jeremy Thorpe, is presented as an honourable man at first. He champions workers’ rights and lambasts the policy of Apartheid in the House of Commons. He has to hide his homosexuality though due to the oppressive legal system and the fact that, as a politician in the public eye, this would seriously harm his ambition to become Prime Minister. When he meets Ben Whishaw’s highly strung stable lad he immediately falls for him and they begin a secret affair. The relationship goes wrong and Thorpe moves on to become the leader of his political party, but an ever increasingly unstable Scott, just won’t go away. That’s when things begin to go awry for Thorpe. Scott won’t take a pay-off and Thorpe won’t give him the National Insurance Card, Scott hilariously demands.

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So, like Henry II demanding, “Someone rid me of this meddlesome priest”, he allegedly, as per the script, takes a more sinister route. I won’t spoil it but the events which are presented are both funny and shocking and have to be witnessed to be believed. The privileged Jeremy Thorpe, garners some empathy due to having to hide his sexuality, however, his subsequent decisions to shut Scott down, as presented in this fascinating tale, are shown to be the actions of a spoilt, desperate and sad man wielding power over someone less fortunate. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely but as shown in A Very English Scandal it also leads to incredible poor decisions by individuals from the ruling classes. Indeed, the main reason I dislike and distrust politicians in general is they can and should afford to be better behaved and more compassionate than those they lead.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

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NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER! THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY BY PAUL LAIGHT

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   A RIK MAYALL TRIBUTE BY PAUL LAIGHT

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY BY PAUL LAIGHT

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS YOU BASTARDS**

The passing of comedian and actor Rik Mayall was a ruddy shame.  Of course I didn’t know the guy but from a cultural point-of-view here was a comedian, actor, raconteur, writer and clown who I grew up watching on the tellybox and escaped into fits of laughter just at his merest look, gesture, rant, pratfall and frying pan in the face.  So when I heard of his death I was disappointed because he was dead. And would never be alive to perform again. That always positive energy was gone.

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I myself have attempted stand-up on a lower-runged level of the comedy circuit and while you can obtain laughs through trial, error, gigging, experience, writing actual jokes blah, blah, blah etc. but what you can’t be taught is actually being funny.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And Rik Mayall didn’t just have funny bones; he had funny eyes, ears, hair, nails, feet, hands, heart, spleen, blood etc. You get the picture:  HE was fucking funny!

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Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Richard Richard, his many Comic Strip performances, Alan B’stard, Drop Dead Fred, The Dangerous Brothers etc. were some of the many varied comedic performances Rik Mayall delivered. He could do clown, mania, slapstick, psycho, pathetic, sleazy, satirical, violence, arrogance, low status, high status, eloquence, sarcasm, smarm and many more.  Like  an overgrown demented child he could run amok, shout then whisper, go dark and then lighten up in a moment.  And it was just so bloody natural.

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Arguably his crowning performance was as Rick in The Young Ones, a surreal, punkish yet somehow still traditional situation comedy centred around four lazy students who essentially fail to get on whatsoever but still form a dysfunctional “family” unit.  Rik was the spoilt mummy’s boy with inklings of anarchic desire yet with a penchant for Cliff Richard records.   He was a spotty, poetry spouting virgin prone to bouts of rage and snivelling sycophancy and sneakiness with an anger toward authority and revolutionary ideals but neither the backbone, physical power or bottle to actually do anything that may bring a government down.  He was basically a cowardly, hysterical child who happened to be hilarious at the same time.

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The Young Ones was a defining comedy for me when I was growing up.  I’d never seen anything like it.  And ever since I have sought out such programmes containing profanity, imagination, stupidity, slapstick, satire, surrealism and above all else human beings trying and failing to get on with each other. I have subsequently found this in shows such as South Park, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to name but a few. However, for the remainder of this piece I want to pay tribute to — if you put a gun to my head — my favouritest thing that Rik was in ever! One of the funniest 50 minutes of comedy ever committed. The Comic Strip film:  MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR! 

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The Comic Strip Presents: erupted from the sordid strip joint stages of Soho or more specifically the original Comedy Store.   Alumni included: Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane and many more comics who would become household names over the years.  Anarchic, punkesque and anti-establishment in approach they were a hurricane of creativity challenging the comedic hegemony and what was considered to be the apolitical, sexist, politically incorrect and old-fashioned performers of the day.

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From the stage they marched into our living rooms on the newly founded Channel 4 in 1982 (way back when C4 produced challenging programming) and over the years produced some wonderful and wacky short films, features and shows which satirised everything and anything from: literature, film, television, politics, music, war, fashion, sport, law etc. The Comic Strip Presents: were a staple for alternative souls and any new episodes were greeted with joy in the mind of South London latchkey-TV-addicted kids like myself.

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The Comic Strip collective produced too many hilarious shows to mention but my favouritest ever is Mr Jolly Lives Next Door!  Written by Mayall and Edmondson they presented two drunken, idiotic morons derived from their Dangerous Brothers’ stage personas.  Together they are DREAMYTIME ESCORTS: alcoholic, depraved, sleazy con-artists with little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever; other than arguably perhaps they cause themselves more damage than others.  Mr Jolly is a masterclass of violent slapstick, stupidity, sight gags, demented cameos and also some very well written jokes too.

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It begins with our unnamed “heroes” helping the police with their enquiries relating to Fatty: a now dead client.  Dreamytime Escorts then get confused with their mysterious-assassin-lunatic neighbour Mr Jolly (the hilarious Peter Cook) and somehow are involved in a plot to “take out” Nicholas Parsons; as arranged by demented gangland boss Mr Lovebucket (Peter Richardson).  And the whole thing is directed by Stephen Frears – yes THAT Stephen Frears. The same one who directed The Grifters (1990), The Queen (2006) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) etc.

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So with a deranged story — which I think may have influenced another moronic classic Dumb and Dumber (1994) — on the go the audience is driven along on a wave of anarchic fun and alcohol fuelled insanity with Rick and Ade having much fun while they’re at it.  The scenes where they torture the Japanese client and get so drunk they end up in the toilet screaming at each other — having “borrowed” Mr Lovebucket’s £3000 to kill Parsons — are a senseless joy.  The drunken nonsense is ramped up even more when they take Quiz Show host and TV celebrity Nicholas Parsons to the Dorchester on a night out; Parsons believing they are competition winners when in fact the “Escorts” have accidentally run the real winners off the road and killed them in a fiery blaze.

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To a teenager the sheer pace of the lunacy was a thing of beauty and even now when I watch Mr Jolly the chaotic nature of the scenes at the Dorchester at Parson’s house are packed full of physical performances, celebrity in-jokes, stupid sight gags such as the tattoo which Ade thinks has been put on backwards when he looks at it in the mirror.  I marvel at the comic timing, sheer energy and controlled mayhem on show.  The next day they suffer the grandest of hangovers and when Mr Lovebucket calls in his debt the two drunks must actually kill Parsons.  What follows is live action cartoon violence of a side-splitting variety with Rik getting a hammer over his head and Ade holding on while two grenades explode.

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Cue a finale which involves a crazy car chase, Rick shitting himself, Dreamytime Escorts van ending up in a skip, Mr Jolly murdering Parsons to the tune of What’s New Pussycat, exploding tonic water and Peter Richardson’s Lovebucket uttering the immortal words: “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” before the whole premises blows up. What you have are Stooges like physical humour combined with Loony Tunes style cartoon violence. There is little satire and no subtlety but it is uproariously funny.  We end with Ade and Rick walking down Camden Lock canal before Mayall pushes his partner-in-grime in the water for no reason.  And that is what is so great about Mr Jolly: it has no underlying meanings or any depth. It’s stupid and violent and loud and ruddy funny.  Rick Mayall was all of these too and much much more and I thank him and Ade for giving us this crazy masterpiece.