Boys from the Blackstuff [DVD]
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Alan Bleasdale's hugely acclaimed series echoes the misery and despair of long-term unemployment. Set in Liverpool, these profoundly moving human dramas follow in turn the attempts of five working-class heroes to survive.
Running Time: 306 minutes + 110 minutes approx.
Alan Bleasdale's Boys from the Blackstuff gripped television audiences in 1982 with its bleak, fiercely funny exploration of the effect of the UK's economic depression on a group of Merseyside characters, originally introduced in his 1978 play, The Blackstuff. Bleasdale's writing is unsparing in both its pain and its unconditional affection for characters being pushed to the very limit of civilisation. Yosser Hughes (the outstanding Bernard Hill) is still, and rightly, recognised as one of the great creations of modern television drama: a man on the brink of madness, unlikeable, ostracised, digging a deeper hole with every desperate act, but ultimately a human being deserving our sympathy.
The performances are wonderful throughout: particularly Peter Kerrigan as Malone, the once giant union leader reduced to a shadow but still with the spark that commands love and respect; Michael Angelis as Chrissie and, in a typically sharp cameo, Julie Walters as his wife. "My dreams still give me hope and faith in my class. I can't believe there's no hope," says Chrissie towards the end. And it's testament to Bleasdale's skill and the resilience of his characters that somehow, that flicker of hope remains unextinguished.
The blackstuff--the tarmac--of the title becomes increasingly ironic. There is none. The boys have no work. The dole office scenes have a grimly nostalgic, documentary quality. Each second drips another droplet of disillusionment on people whose expectations are crushed by every effort to haul themselves up. Thatcher's Britain was a cruel place for many people. The unspoken question that hangs in the air after watching Bleasdale's poetic dissection of ruined lives is, have things really changed that much? Television drama doesn't come any more powerful or honest than this.
On the DVD: Boys from the Blackstuff is presented in standard 4:3 TV format with a mono soundtrack that often suffers from a muffled quality. There's only one additional feature, but it's a treasure: The Blackstuff, Alan Bleasdale's original 90-minute play, is presented as a prelude to the series with the bonus of an insightful commentary from the author and the director, Jim Goddard. --Piers Ford
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This is a tale of the horror and misery of life in the 1980's for those unfortunate enough to be unemployed (of which there were many millions) in Thatcher's Britain.
The story focuses on several men who are desperate to find work, based in Liverpool. Things rarely go well for these men, and they - and their families - constantly suffer from poverty and deprivation.
Liverpool in the 1980's was a destitute place, largely abandoned by the government. And this TV series conveys the hellish state of affairs that existed.
Each episode focuses on a particular character. It's amazing that, for most (not all), these characters still retain some joy in their lives.
This DVD set contains the full series. It also has the one-shot TV movie that preceded the series - called "The Blackstuff". This one-shot had most of the same characters in it, as they worked laying roads ('blackstuff'). Hence the TV series is about "the boys" from "The Blackstuff".
Excellent stuff. If you want to know what the 1980's was like for millions of working class people, watch this.
But the 5 remaining parts (ranging from 43 to 68 minutes) are often powerful stuff indeed. A
rueful, depressing and cutting look at unemployment and personal and economic depression
in the Thatcher years. The opening film isn't really needed, as one could pick up much of what
happened from the 5 part mini-series, but it does serve as a good basic set up for the characters
and their relationships, as a group of workers on the dole take an off-the- books job laying down
tarmac (the black stuff) at a new apartment complex. But in the original film the characters stay
frustratingly close to caricatures, and the story twists are largely unsurprising.
But in the 5 part mini-series, made 2 years later, that all changes. Each hour investigates one of
the character's lives in great depth and detail, The performances are very strong, and the stories
are almost all heartbreaking as we see what being unemployed and unwanted by society does to
these men; their families, their self-esteem, even their sanity. There are occasional darkly funny
moments, but this is grim, uncompromising stuff, with one episode in particular "Yosser's story"
as harrowing and disturbing and honest a piece of film- making as I've seen in a long while. It's
interesting (if depressing) to see how much of what was going on in England in 1982, could just
as well be America in 2013.
TBFTBS starts as the story (originally written by Alan Bleasdale as a BBC play for today) of a gang of scouse tarmac layers on a job in Middlesbourough. The job goes wrong and they're all sacked!
Bleasdale then made a further five episodes for tv dedicated more or less to each character and how their lives changed from that day. This dvd doesn't include the muscle market which stared Pete Postlethwaite as a building site contractor who employs cheap labourers who are also collecting social security on the side.
The five episodes are. . .
Jobs for the boys.
Shop thy neighbour.
Georges last ride.
The boys from the Blackstuff introduces us to the characters therefore setting the scene for the following episodes. I found it interesting in that some of the rants/social statements made by the characters throughout the episodes are relavant to today's economic climate (in my opinion of course) Especially the mini lecture given by Snowy Malone in the back of the transit van on the way to a job where he subsequently dies and as he's laying there dead, a social security officer or snoop as they were known, reads an arresting statement out to the other lads. No matter what, they'll get their man!
This is a brilliant insight into the working class early eighties economy. It's desperate, funny, powerful, sad and tragic all rolled into one. It's a downward spiral with no happy ending in sight. Much like today? :)
It's one of those things I think all teenagers should watch and discuss in school or at home maybe to frighten them into studying harder. Mind you, I know people with good degrees who can't find jobs today!
Filmed in Liverpool the backdrops of the derelict dock and surrounding areas are a stark contrast to how the rejuvinated Liverpool looks today.
Anybody who has read Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, I would imagine would like this.
Very relevant as then now as with the food bank crisis sadly we have slipped back down the well
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