Top positive review
11 December 2018
These six films are an amazing experience, they are so well written by Jimmy McGovern (Nos 3 and 6) and others, and then the acting lifts them up so high - without wishing to demean the excellent direction by David Blair and Terry McDonough who direct two and four respectively. All six are explorations of life and what lies under the surface, as brought out by extreme or unpredictable incidents. They are all set in the same street, going from one household to another, but major actors in one turn up as neighbours in another, giving a sense of a bigger picture. It's hard to put one above another, as each one seems to be as moving, or more so, than the last, but this is partly because you are amazed this can be so. There is a high level of misery, but that seems to be the way here of showing humanity at its most challenged, and the results more than justify the grimness you sometimes feel. The fourth and sixth of the set in particular make you wonder, but then the writers have a way of allowing some light into the picture at the end, often. Positive endings seem like the ultimate optimism - I like the way he never leaves you really in the dark.
The lead actors are amazing - too many to mention, really, but obviously David Thewlis and Timothy Spall set the bar very high in Nos 1 and 2. The first is a particularly strange premise, a man watching football with his identical twin brother, who chokes on a sweet, suddenly decides to swap lives and step into his brother's shoes when the latter dies on the spot. It stretches credibility a bit, of course, but the gambit more than pays off. It absolutely plays up to Thewlis's way of acting, as if written for him to play the dual role. The wife (Bronagh Gallagher) is amazing in this film - very emotional, and able to carry what is required, which is a lot ... He has two sons, and in fact the whole thing turns into a commentary on It's A Wonderful Life, whereby he sees how much his family loved him, thinking him dead ... But it is not as sweetened as the Capra vision. No. 5 is a brilliant comedy with Mark Benton - comedy with darker aspects, I suppose, as it is far from all light ... No. 6 is sublime, in the end. It takes on the hardest subject of all, perhaps, a mother facing the man who was responsible for her baby's death, when the latter was only a boy himself. Any summary of the events would not do justice to what happens on screen, though - it really is remarkable through every second.
The films shoot actors' faces with remarkable intensity - they are often in ordinary rooms shown in closeup, but the careful lighting and expressivity of the faces make for something really rare. My own favourite is probably No 3, the one that made me want to see all the rest. This is partly because it doesn't seem to show quite such devastation as some of the others - No. 4 is very painful, a situation where one cousin is going to pay the price of imprisonment for a death the other cousin is responsible for, and both mothers know - sisters who live on opposite sides of the street. The interest here is really in seeing how some people will try to get away with something, even something as dreadful as this. It was shocking to watch this, but one should trust the writer to bring it round somehow ... Perhaps the lovely Matt Smith's face made it even worse, to see him the victim of such awful injustice, and nobly not landing his cousin in it. But to get back to No. 3 - Vincent Regan's demolition man discovers he is bisexual on a job away from home, and spirals ever more out of control as his wife and two children become involved because he gets mugged in a gay bar, and his watch is stolen, then found by the police. The way this watch is used to advance the story is extraordinary - a bit like Max Ophuls' Madame de ... even though the world could hardly be more different. The writing has that control and clarity, everything is so revealing in the dialogues. But at the heart of it is a performance by Regan that is unforgettable, one of the best I have ever seen on television or on film. He is utterly moving and convincing - his face so expressive of his conflicting emotions, it just leaves you speechless. It makes you see the absolute wonder of acting - the beauty of getting a performance like this on film.
However the pleasures of the films are too many to mention - Ger Ryan so touching as the wife of Timothy Spall; the young Damien (Michael Taylor), a 15-year-old truant and illiterate schoolboy from a broken home, leaping somersaults over the garden walls to deliver letters in his esteem-boosting friendship with Benton's hapless postman; the final hug between Lorraine Ashbourne and Matt Smith; Timothy Spall finding the missing snooker ball in the street, and the last scene of the last film, so simple in itself but so meaningful in context.