Wednesday 20 November 2019

Show Me a Hero - David Simon makes real drama out of the mundane

Show Me a Hero: Oscar Isaac
Show Me a Hero: Oscar Isaac

John Boland

Show Me a Hero (Sky Atlantic) is a six-hour mini-series created by David Simon, best known as the man behind The Wire, which is routinely cited by its devotees as the best television drama ever made.

Whether or not you think it's quite that, there's no doubting Simon's social concern, exemplified here in a true story of how a federal order compelled the building of 200 housing units for the disadvanaged in the Yonkers of the late 1980s.

That doesn't sound very exciting but, as in the Danish drama Borgen (currently showing on TG4), attention to character can make even the most mundane of storylines exciting, and so it proves here.

Oscar Isaac is riveting as ambitious young councilman Nick Wasiczko, who begins his tenure as new mayor by sympathising with those who don't want the socially deprived in their middle-class neighbourhoods, and he's strikingly supported by Jim Belushi as the outgoing mayor, Winona Ryder as a cynical councilwoman and Catherine Keener as one of the chief protestors.

The plight of various down-and-out families is expertly woven into the mix, and the result was a first episode that made me keen to see more of this series.

I liked, too, the one-off drama, The Scandalous Lady W (BBC2), again based on a true story, this time of an 18th-century woman whose lover was sued by her vengeful aristocratic husband for damaging his "property".

The "property", though, had already been damaged by himself, who had pimped out his reluctant but obedient wife to 26 other men, while he peeped at their sexual antics through a keyhole. That's the upper classes for you.

The men here were little more than ciphers, but there was fun to be had from watching all the 26 lovers being paraded in court to attest to the husband's creepy complicity.

The film was beautifully shot, too, but finally it was all held together by Natalie Dormer in the title role. She brought a commanding presence to a part that, in other hands, could have forfeited our sympathy.

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