Customer Review

81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the depths of despair, a masterpiece, 22 Mar 2008
This review is from: Boys from the Blackstuff [DVD] (DVD)
I was old enough to remember what Liverpool was like in the early eighties. The city was trying to cope with mass unemployment and seeing the slow painful death of a port made famous by the slave trade. The riots that took place in Toxteth in 1981 had made national news, and yet it hardly registered here as the whole city was in such a state of rapid decline that a few buildings gutted by fire hardly registered.

And it is extraordinary that in this period Liverpool had a football team that swept all before them, a music scene that produced some of the most critically acclaimed acts of the decade (Japan and Echo and The Bunnymen, for example) and a vibrant local theatre scene. Out of this, and with a help with a few visionaries from down the M6 at Pebble Mill, came a series that followed the fortunes of Chrissy, Dixie, George and of course, Yosser.

It has been said that no drama captured the essence of early eighties deprivation like Boys From The Black Stuff, even though Alan Bleasdale claimed he had written it before Thatcher came to power. This does it a slight disservice, only because it suggests that this should only be seen by those with an interest in that period of seismic social change. Boys From The Black Stuff is not only a gripping drama but also one of the blackest comedies you are ever likely to see. It is a must see. End of.

What is so special about this programme is that it shows in considerable depth the unravelling of each of the main characters (no leads here either, just a fine ensemble of actors in tune with the writing and the roles they played) as they try and cling on to their last bit of pride as they fall into the poverty trap. This spirit leads to further confrontations with the officials from the DHSS, Social Services and even the law. Their descents into despair (and in one harrowing case, madness) is painfully compelling to watch. And the humour that came out of these darkest moments is testament not only to the quality of writing but the spirit of those who have no choice but to keep fighting on.

Liverpool has moved on since then, with it being the European capital of culture this year. However, despite the massive regeneration in the city and (so we're lead to believe) a new dawn for Liverpool, the once mighty Liverpool has fallen down the pecking order in terms of footballing invincibility (the battle for fourth place? do me a favour), musical talent (Atomic Kitten - spare me) and even the drama comes courtesy of Hollyoaks. If this is progress, you can keep it.

Note: this DVD features the Play for Today that preceded the series. It's just as fascinating, but nowhere near as strong as the main series. You could watch it as an appetiser as it kind of sets the scene for what happens during the series, but it isn't compulsary (which is why it's on Disc 3).
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Jan 2009 22:38:30 GMT
Not to be pedantic; but... tho' the Port of Liverpool may have been `made famous by the slave trade', it was a port in its own right - no `white guilt' here, please...

In addition, `Japan' didn't come from Liverpool [ tho', some members of `Big In Japan' did ].

I would, however, agree with your sentiment towards the idea of `progress' - plastic, superficial & tawdry - Liverpool shouldn't need hand-outs from Europe, as it is - as Carl Jung stated - the Pool of Life [ tho', having lived thro' the 80s there, myself... I can't help feeling he spent too much time in Flannagan's Apple... ].

One thing Alan Bleasdale [ or his audience ] failed to pick-up on at the time, however [ tho', he hints at this in stating that he wrote it `before Thatcher came to power' ] was the irony of how it was the Socialists themselves who destroyed Liverpool.

As for football; at the time of writing this, we're top - & Man. U. aren't - that's all that matters...

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jan 2009 15:21:28 GMT
The BigE says:
Top of the league didn't last long did it!

Posted on 15 Feb 2010 11:24:03 GMT
I think the inclusion of the Play For Today of Blackstuff makes interesting viewing, showing the characters before they fall on the hard times.

Posted on 21 Jul 2010 17:40:49 BDT
G. Donaldson says:
Excellent review, although the Play for Today is actually my favourite and easily as strong as the series IMHO.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2010 16:12:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Sep 2010 16:13:49 BDT
Just saw the original play 'The Blackstuff' on BBC4 and thought it was well-structured as the job in Middlesbrough leads to 'the foreigner' and the men being conned as well as falling out with each other. It also set the scene for Yosser's later mental disintegration.

As for things not changing, that's an interesting point, but the first episode of the series, with Snowy trying to influence the men to stand up for themselves, reminded me of Robert Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (set in 1906). Bleasdale's drama echoes themes & characters from that novel (Snowy=Frank Owen/politics/artisan, Chrissie as Frank Owen the human being), but makes the situation more complex with the men acknowledging Snowy's points but that family responsibilities means they put their own interests first.

For all its bleakness and black humour, it is a compassionate piece of work. How can one not feel for Snowy and Chrissie's shocked reaction and also feel outrage as the DHSS official reads out the charge.

Posted on 8 Jan 2014 10:06:34 GMT
Wickham says:
I can remember now looking forward to the programme each week, it was a very emotion dram laughing and crying within minutes, the scene with Yozzer in the confession still is with me and the wheelbarrow scene to the Hospital, brilliant. However one point that is never remembered, one or two of them were in the bad situation having benefits cut etc., through there own bad choices, which was shown in the Blackstuff

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jan 2014 10:08:42 GMT
Wickham says:
Well said, Liverpool city today can stand up to any city in Europe and I have visited most of them.........although I no longer liver there my mum is still there and I enjoy going back as a tourist

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jan 2014 10:09:39 GMT
Wickham says:
Yes and also why they ended up the way they did

Posted on 3 Jun 2014 13:53:23 BDT
geoff says:
Kalm down Kalm down Kalm down

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jun 2014 13:55:08 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jun 2014 13:55:53 BDT
geoff says:
Full of skegged up shell suited robbing gits
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