An Inspector Calls

Though made before the current battle lines between the Government and the BBC were drawn, this adaptation of JB Priestley’s impassioned plea for social justice – written during the austerity years after a great reckoning – felt both timely and not a little provocative.

When an engagement party at the home of wealthy industrialist Arthur Birling (Ken Stott) is interrupted by a police inspector investigating a young woman’s suicide, the family initially refuses to see the connection between the tragedy and their own lives. Slowly, though, the mysterious policeman (David Thewlis) begins unpicking their veneer of bourgeois respectability to expose their culpability, not just in the neglect and death of this girl but, he contends, in the plight of all girls like her.

Stott’s indignant bluster was well matched by Miranda Richardson as his wife Sybil – a sort of Edwardian Katie Hopkins – but it was to Thewlis the eye was irresistibly drawn: wiry and inscrutable, he was like a cat with a ball of string, toying with the family until their entire lives had unraveled.

Of course, any version of An Inspector Calls can’t help but be judged against Stephen Daldry’s thrilling stage revival, the most garlanded play in theatre history. It would probably be impossible to match the visceral power of that production – in which the House of Birling literally falls down around the family’s ears – but screenwriter Helen Edmundson and director Aisling Walsh did a good job of expanding the action beyond the Birlings’ four walls, without losing the compelling chamber piece at the story’s heart. Only the last act, in which the Inspector is revealed to be a ghost from the future, and the entire play a time-twisting chronicle of a death foretold, seemed misjudged, revealing its hand too soon so that, while there was still a twist in the tale, it lost some of its sting.

Before vanishing – literally ­– into the night, the Inspector left us with this parting shot: ‘We don’t live alone… We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish.’

Or, to put it another way: We’re all in this together.

 

TV extra:

 

The Sound of ITV: The Nation’s Favourite Themes

This poll of viewers’ top TV themes from down the decades threw up some interesting trivia: Did you know Dennis Waterman wrote the feem toon to Minder with the bloke who co-wrote New York, New York? Or that a version of the Emmerdale theme was released as a single with added lyrics – in Swedish?

Best of all was the admission that, as we’ve all long suspected, the best themes are written so you can sing the name of the TV show to them. Altogether now: ‘Who Wants to be a Million-aaaaaaaaaire…?’

 

This Is England ’90 

Some people dismiss nostalgia as a sickness that stops us living in the moment. But the final part of Shane Meadows’ This is England trilogy suggests otherwise. From its witty opening montage (Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Poll Tax Riots, Gazza’s tears, Thatcher’s tears – the latter’s Downing Street departure cheekily soundtracked by The La’s’ There She Goes) onwards, this love letter to Meadows’ Madchester [CORR] youth is fit to pop with a joyous love of life in all its messy, complicated, painfully funny glory. It’ll twist your melon, man.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 17, 2015

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