Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
on 24 August 2011
Adapted by Stephen Gallagher from his own novel, this thriller caused a sensation when it first aired in 1991. Having heard the 1981 radio adaptaion, I remember keenly anticipating this production, and was not disappointed. Some have criticised the production for being slow, and compared to today's "shout and run" approach to drama, it must seem so. But this apparent slowness actually allows the drama to develop, the tension mount realistically, and gives the viewer time to appreciate the issues raised. These are big themes - the ethics of mankind's assumed superiority over animals, how far should science go down certain paths, what happens when the science is hijacked by commercial and political interests, and how involved in such interests should the scientists be?
I can only point to one performance being a bit wooden but by the second episode that doesn't matter. On the whole the performances are excellent. Emma Gillespie isn't particularly convincing as the young nurse tentatively exploring the mystery surrounding the Jenner fertility clinic, but John Lynch is excellent as her dopey waste of space boyfriend who has to grow a backbone very quickly. His bewildered shuffling at the edges of the action in episode two is spot on as he realises that something beyond his first fears is happening in the remote village near the clinic. Gallagher admits that Lynch's role was underwritten, but paradoxically this gives the actor the chance to display silent acting at it's best. His eyes say more than his script ever could. David Calder pitches his opportunistic doctor just right, his callousness covered by an air of benevolent professionalism. George Costigan and Gary Mathers provide good support as the dogged detective and the grieving husband, both frustrated at being on the periphery of events. Pippa Haywood is a frighteningly convincing ambitious young researcher whose excitement at the commercial possibilities of creatures such as Chad is apallingly recogniseable. The two young children are quite affecting with their understated terror. Their eyes show the haunted look of children caught in a stituation they can't understand or escape. Especially touching is Sebastian Shaw, a fine veteran actor in one of his last roles as Jenner's one time mentor, clinging to the last shreds of his dignity in a dismal nursing home.
Kenneth Cranham steals the show however with a masterclass in inhumane officialdom. A brief scene which reveals him to be a devoted father actually highlights his callous approach to his work.
The locations are perfect, with the chaotic urban paranoia balanced by the rural scenes, which are moodily ominous. Never have torn bin liners seemed so malevolent.
Chad is a magnificent creation, his body shape and face going beyond human or chimp into the disturbingly "unlike". The mask is very well animated, especially in the barn scene in the final episode, where, together with Douglas Mann's brilliant body language beneath the suit, it is almost possible to belive he is showing regret. The fact that this is an actual performance rather than the cgi cartoon creature we would get now lends a fearsome physicality to his prescence, particularly unsettling in his scenes with the children.
Thinking back to the way national newspapers were falling over each other to be the first to show images of Chad, the half human half chimp hybrid, it is surprising to find his image so prominent on the DVD packaging. It is also surprising that the shock ending to the first episode is revealed in the blurb. I well remember the continuity announcement that Gallagher mentions in the special features, a perfect moment of light relief after a harrowing last act.
This is thoughtful drama, well made and well acted. Not everything has to be shouted while on the run to be gripping.