Saturday 10 December 2016

Classy cast gives Priestley play its due

John Boland

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

In its Sunday night classic drama slot, BBC1 followed a lacklustre version of Lady Chatterley's Lover with a much more successful adaptation of JB Priestley's 1945 play, An Inspector Calls, directed by Aisling Walsh.

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It didn't try to conceal the play's essential staginess, but the performances were so good that this didn't matter, and the occasional use of flashbacks opened out the action tellingly. Ken Stott was the patriarch whose sacking of a young factory woman may have contributed to her suicide. Miranda Richardson (inset) as his ghastly wife was complicit, too, when she refused the girl's plea for financial assistance. And also guilty were their daughter, who'd got her fired from a subsequent job, and their son, who'd got her pregnant.

Priestly was attacking economic injustice and social entitlement and although some of the speeches by the mysterious accusing inspector were a bit hectoring, there was no doubting either the passion or the drama's impact.

The same couldn't be said for BBC4's latest Scandinavian import, Beck, adapted from bestselling thrillers by the husband and wife team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and first made into TV dramas as far back as 1997.

Last weekend's first offering came from 2009 and featured eponymous middle-aged detective Martin Beck as he tried to figure out who was burying alive a series of prominent people. In the end he ended up in a coffin himself as his colleagues desperately tried to figure out where he was located. Not a patch on The Killing or The Bridge, this was formulaic stuff, with lacklustre playing by Peter Haber in the title role.

The week's other main drama was This Is England '90 (Channel 4) and was eagerly awaited by all those fans of Shane Meadows's earlier This is England dramas set on a Sheffield estate. I never quite got into those and I remained detached here, too, as Meadows brought viewers up to speed on his no-hopers. Sometimes social realism isn't its own justification, or that's my view anyway.

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