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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One to watch and savour time and again., 11 Feb. 2009
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This review is from: Takin' Over The Asylum [1994] [DVD] (DVD)
I should apologise in advance that I am liable to waffle on about how good this is. I have been wanting to watch it for a long time, and equally reluctant to spend the best part of six hours sitting in front of youtube. To have it finally surface on DVD was too great a temptation!

I'll try to avoid spoilers, but any decent review of this will let a few things slip - you have been warned.

Many will come to this via the popularity of David Tennant, and indeed, to watch this is to wonder how it took so long for him to become a household name; but even then, his performance is simply one great performance among many. As ensemble casts go, this is one of the best, and I cannot pick out a weak link, even amongst those cast members who have no lines at all or who appear only in one episode.

Ken Stott in particular deserves a special mention for his portrayal of double glazing salesman and would-be pro dejay Eddie. His relationship with his dappy grandma (played with superb comic nous combined with believable characterisation by Elizabeth Spriggs) is very funny and very touching, affection and exasperation going hand in hand. His onscreen chemistry with both Murphy and, in a different way, Tennant, make those central relationships absolutely believable and touching. His portrayal of a man gradually falling to pieces is painfully real.

Katy Murphy - what can I say. Moments of extreme tenderness and vulnerability, punctured by her character's reluctance to own that vulnerability. There are moments where the expression in her eyes is enough to bring tears to mine. Tennant mentions in the commentary that she makes him cry: it's not hard to see why.

Tennant himself shows that even in his relatively tender early twenties he was already a force to be reckoned with. His audition footage is a nice bonus, and it is not hard to see why the director took a chance on a raw young talent to carry a good part of the story - he is absolutely fearless, and it shows. As Campbell Bain he has so much energy and so much at times unexpected pathos to make compelling viewing. Absolutely natural in the role of the young, talented manic-depressive, he pins all the stories together, and his ability to change mood or turn the feeling of a scene on a sixpence is already much in evidence.

I could go on, but will just briefly mention two other stand out performances before this review gets insanely long:

Softly spoken Angus MacFayden as Fergus will steal your heart and then promptly break it... If anyone can sit through his story without being touched, I have to doubt they have a feeling bone in their body. Excellent in big and small scenes, often portraying much with a simple, expressive look; an impressive comedy turn in places, too, with a very brief Jack Nicholson impression that is uncanny.

Ruth McCabe is similarly touching and funny in her portrayal of Rosalie, an ordinary housewife bar her OCD, an engaging and moving performance; the scene where she innocently reveals the cause of her problems to Campbell is one that will stay with me for a long time. She manages to make Rosalie funny, sad and sympathetic, without ever making her weak or an object of pity or derision.

I could go on; this is truly a fine cast, a fine script, and an altogether unmissable series. The extras are relatively scanty, as is often the case with pre-DVD productions, but the two episodes-worth of commentary and the Tennant audition tape are well worth their inclusion. One can only long for more, but there is more to enjoy and to appreciate here than in many more comprehensive discs. The DVD transfer doesn't have the clarity we expect these days, again unsurprising given its age, and the music tracks are mostly or all very fine cover versions, but only a grouch could complain when the emotion and raw story on screen are so thoroughly absorbing.

There are a few terribly eighties moments, but anything mawkish or sappy is contrasted immediately by tragedy and comedy, and the hair and clothes are more amusing than horrific. Any datedness is only in things that will prompt a wry smile, not a wince.

One to watch and watch again, and one to make you think: TV at its best.
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Location: UK

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