Gay Times Reviews XX

Gormenghast BBC2

I should have taken better reading material on my trip to America's midwest (three words: fantastic, but flat). I did start to read this epic trilogy once, a long time ago. I never finished it, despite a penchant which travels along the curve of fantasy fiction. When I heard that the BBC was producing Gormenghast I rubbed my hands with glee. BBC production values, prime English stars, Peake's promethean and cruel tale, what a combination! And I can reveal that I have not been disappointed... thus far.

Of course the purists out there who have devoured the books may express dissent. For all I know it could be so distracted from the original that they are wailing and gnashing their teeth. I care not a jot. The ancient family of Groan and the castle chattels were a marvel to watch. Steerpike (Johathan Rhys Meyers as the kitchen boy with ambition, manipulative skills and murderous intent) was boyish and yet nefarious. Ian Richardson tackled the intricacy of the tangled mind of Lord Groan superbly while June Brown provided a fastidious accomplishment as Nannie Slagg. Christopher Lee (Christopher Lee!) left me flabbergasted - oh, too fleeting! - as Flay. At his most bombastic, Stephen Fry as headmaster Bellgrove; John Sessions finicky yet affable as Dr. Prunesquallor; and Andrew N. Robertson, a mirror held against Titus and bounced back with royalty. Was it my being hypnotised by this extraordinary series, or did the casting seem to give the cast their cresting roles?

Described ingeniously as 'Dickens On Crack' Gormenghast is for me a an utterly astounding adaptation that had my jaw on the floor. I mean: the BBC production team even managed to acquire an albino crow for Lady Groan (a prosthetically jowled Celie Imrie) - a white crow! Hollywood, and it would be $1.2million for a PixarȘ CGI. The sets, designed by Christopher Hobbs, provided the backdrop, rather than leaping to the fore and crushing the production or performances. A powerful and polished cast. A fantasically realised world. Superb costumes. And it's on the BBC. What more could you ask for?

EastEnders BBC1

Once again, EastEnders (BBC) has offered the ultimate carrot to a braying queer viewship only to whip it away again, wave it tauntingly in the air and start chuckling, cruelly and smugly. It doesn't matter that there are gay - even lesbian - roles all over the shop. It doesn't matter that some rabid right wing radicals still bludgeon on about gays being pornographers and perverts. Who cares? The point is we endlessly and patiently wait in our millions, perched on the edge of our couches, for a gay character that will merely stay the course! While many may say 'First gay character. First gay kiss. Age of Consent. First Person With AIDS. Bi-racial lesbian couple. Homophobia. First gay physician...' until you smack them until they just! shut! up! frankly, it's not enough.

15 years of watching, waiting, hopin' and a-prayin' and we get to the point where meagre medic Dr. Fred Fonseca is leaving. Hardly had he got his stethoscope warmed when he's scared off by a few choice comments by Martin Fowler, a gangly, sullen fifteen year old who 'comes over all queer' when Fred scuttles by. Mick rode in to be to Fonseca's succour only to be chastised for trying to fight another's battle. Sonia galloped in and defended with, well, confusion: 'people who hate gays are as bad as racists' but she 'knew that Martin didn't really mean it.' This caused Kim to go to the good doctor for the sodden 'Well some people don't understand gays...' speech, fallen on deaf ears in the case of Kim's mother and Fonseca's receptionist, Josie. By the way, message boards across the web are howling in angst at the BBC for making a Jamaican character homophobic, scolding them for racism.

But I digress. So Mick is okay but his sister's confused and his Mother's anti-gay while Sonia is pro-gay but believes a stupid lying, thieving shit like Martin, and Fred is such a coward he's leaving for Islington (implicated as a step up to better things, happier days and no homophobia - the chatterings class round here are so much more tolerant, darling). And everyone's okay with this?

Look, if Fonseca's going to leave why couldn't he have been knocked over by Pat, in a drunken stupor and behind the wheel at the prospect of Wicksey's return? Or killed in the crossfire between Terry and Eileen? Or mauled to death by that highly strung (he should be) trench-coated terrier, Ian Beale? Why do we have to put up with such - yes, I'm going to say it! - namby pamby, piss-weak gay characters who leg it at the first sign of trouble? Everytime EastEnders disgorges a gay character onto the Square I am asked silently, by the glimmer in the eye, whether I think that this time, just maybe, this is will the one. I admit it now, I have lost the will to even consider that one day, just maybe, there might be.

Queer As Folk 2 Ch 4

Wow... Oh wow! Sold! once more, this time to the wide-eyed lesbian at the press launch. But what can I say in a mere 400 words I'm allowed?

Since the end of Queer As Folk Nathan has managed to shag seven men. Stuart (Aiden Gillen) had upped his tally and slept with 'about 2,007'. 'That means I've got 2000 left. How many more have you got?' Nathan asked, his face an impeccable study in cocky, conquering attitude. Stuart, banging on 30 (52 in gay years, poor mite), clearly began to realise that his queer queendom is crumbling. `They're all kids,' he complained, snarling while Nathan (Charlie Hunnam) struts in and nabs the fuck Stuart had lined up.

Meanwhile Vince (Craig Kelly), a shy blustering lad in the face of a threesome and coquettishly bitchy about a work colleague, mooched around in the background, still standing doe-eyed and semi-hard behind Stuart, whose coming out to his parents was spiteful, rather - but effectively - uncomfortable. And while Stu is indisposed to premature aging, Nathan - '16 next week and getting old, can't hang around'! - is smugly challenging authority and gaining - nay, grabbing - ground.

I said last year that Queer As Folk was '...the full-on queer version of This Life we've all been craving for the last two years' but I hope you didn't expect more of the same. For one thing, none of the actors were contracted so some have disappeared, including the lesbians who accessoried their lives with AI baby Albert, and Nathan's friend Donna, a belligerent novitiate to Scary Spice.

Retained and enhanced is Vince's mother (Denise Black). Just a quick aside here: Why oh why Channel 4 decided against taking up the option of The Misfits - a series based on Hazel's haphazard life - I will never know. Her performance was (in my meek opinion) tremendous; displaying pathos, quippy and pithy wit, and a cracking right hook. The writing, superb. The realisation, ooh just glorious! Also given a bigger stage to prance upon is Alex (Anthony Cotton) who might probably equal the furore over underage sex in QAF with that Jill Dando joke.

I did feel some of the brushstrokes of mockery and glimmers of the gay psyche might, just might, be lost on a less sophisticated (alright, straight) audience. For me QAF2 was more outright hilarity yet some darker tones poked through. And by god, what a stroke of genius on the part of director Menhaj Huda to slow the background down and spiral in to Vince and Stuart during their goodbye scene. Splendidly shot (particulary the exiting jeep) with a wonderful cast and a fantastic script. Russell lad, you've done us proud.

© March 2000 Megan Radclyffe

Through The KeyholeBBC1

There was a time when this show was considered to be primetime viewing. Face it: there's nothing TV viewers love more than a good old ferret through a celeb's drawers. We can sit in judgment and ignore the jealousy tapping hard on our shoulders.

Nowadays Through The Keyhole is sandwiched between a 70s detective and The Tweenies. David Frost still confuses me (Political Correspondent, or Terrible Comedy Presenter?) and the nasal drone that made Grossman the druthers of many third rate impressionists aggravates the hell out of me.

Still I watch the bits where the `homes of the famous' are laid bare. I'm curious, OK? I even guessed it was the home of Peter Tatchell long before Jono and Toyah had a stab at it. Don't ask me how. Maybe it was the multiple piles of newspapers - stacked neatly enough but bugger all use as a filing device. Maybe it was the splashes of red against the white walls. Or maybe it was all those political books about rights that crammed together and caused groaning bookshelves.

It certainly wasn't a gay `element' in the flat: at least, Grossman never alluded to sexuality (there's a clue right there: if the celeb is married he slips it into the conversation somehow) and there was no gay paraphernalia spotted in the background. Was it hidden away? Or does Tatchell not have any?

All that's left to work out now is whether I have a quick mind that can suss out a gay man's abode or am I so sad as to be playing along with this game anyway? The only other one I got recently was Dave Sullivan... says more about me than it does about a programme that has eight minutes of genuine interest in a half hour show, I suppose.

The Naked Chef BBC2

Maybe I've just been spoiled by the immobility of Delia and Fanny. And now that Ainsley's big in America (thank gawd he left!) we have no bouncy chefs. So step up Jamie Oliver. Well Ye gads! I tried watching the new darling of TV cookery, I really did. But he's exhausting even to watch!

This lisping Essex boy is too much. Oliver constantly slings together meals `for the boys'. There's no hidden agenda - makes you wonder why on earth PR claims he has such a `huge gay following' but I digress. After a morning zipping about and being chummy with market traders, he crashes his silver moped through his front door and parks it in his hallway. He doesn't walk down stairs, he slides. He seems to half-run everywhere. His kitchen would probably throw a five-star chef into a hissy fit. He go-karts and he goes to the dogs. He never stops!

To me it's the equivalent of watching a road crash: I want to turn away but I can't bring myself to do so. Maybe that's because I thought it was a radical move to be gently lulled by the Two Fat Ladies puttering along on motorbike and sidecar. Showing them back to back with this Naked Chef - as Jennifer fished in waders while Clarissa sat on the bank and sang a lilting tune (a thoroughly delightful and poignant moment) - just enhances the feeling that TV cooks have finally gone insane. Oh and it's the food that's naked, not the chef. Sorry!

Cor! Blimey Carlton

Brave move this. Of course it focused on the national institution of Carry On films - including all those classic moments and gave away some of the filming secrets (they apparently painted mud patches green for Carry On Camping), but it also gently peeled back the skin to show the raw realities of the offscreen romance between Babs and Sid.

Set mostly during the glory days of Carry On fame it centred around Windsor (Samantha Spiro), James (Geoffrey Hutchings) and Williams (Adam Godley). The portrayals were one of the most remarkable yet slightly bizarre aspects of this dramatisation. Spiro was dainty and scrumptious as Babs but left no illusion as to Windsor's singular gumption. Godley played Kenneth with a hair clip and timely sneers and was shown for the most part as a rather objectionable farter with hefty haemorrhoids. This famed lonesome's soul was fleetingly touched upon, and tenderly done.

I would contend that Hutchings had the hardest job: Babs is still very much on the 21" screen (and first through the doors of the Beeb's new Hall of Fame) and Williams is the darling of the impressionists' circuit, but Sid James - who rarely gave interviews and barely spoke when he did - was more of an unknown quantity. Given this, I think Hutchings presented a superlative piece of work. He imitated the pathos behind being the nation's most recognisable `dirty old bastard' with wonderful timing and insight. Hints of his jealous nature and addictive psyche weren't used to beat the dead, which makes a refreshing change after years of such revelatory programmes. Even the sex scene - when it finally came - was typically British: Sid still in his vest, and very tastefully shot.

I was very touched by this tale of tragicomedy. Hard not to be when in places, Cor! Blimey became utterly heart wrenching in its simple use of wordless montages. Even the appearance of Babs herself didn't irk me, although it was a tad surreal. Her sentiment, that Heaven would be an editing suite were you could reedit your life until it reached perfection, could easily have been seen as a cathartic piece of theatrics. Call me an malleable softie but I felt it barely put a plaster on those wounds.

The love story alone was worth the admission price. Add the backstage bickery (James: `Shirt lifter!', Williams: `South African!'), the detail of peripheral Carry On characters, the recreation of the film sets; the authentic air of all that and (if there's any justice in the world of television, that is) you have an award winner.

© June 2000 Megan Radclyffe

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