TV FACTUAL DRAMA
Here’s a section of a review from The Guardian of The Reckoning, the new factual drama mini-series about Jimmy Saville
‘Stripped of context, The Reckoning is a rigorously well-made thing. Steve Coogan is brilliant in the lead. He is a fine actor, as well as a fine impressionist, and the part of Saville gives him the chance to blend the two. He captures the vibe entirely: shows us the layers of charm and malevolence slipping and sliding over each other, depending on who was near and what he wanted from them. But The Reckoning does exist in a context. And that context is a world already full of dramas and documentaries that mine trauma. To justify adding to that pile, you have to be adding something really valuable to the subject. It is here that The Reckoning falls down. To watch it is to come way depressed but unenlightened. Reminding us that evil exists and walks untroubled among us is not enough.’ Lucy Mangan
I think this is spot-on. And I feel similarly about the ITV mini-series The Long Shadow about Peter Sutcliffe and his victims. Both shows are unquestionably well-made. But what purpose does it serve raking over these horrible stories? I think both these stories may be better served by the documentaries that have already been made. I watched a BBC interview with Steve Coogan and survivor Sam Brown talking about The Reckoning. What Sam Brown said in 30 seconds, told us more about the horrors and impact of Saville’s crimes than the whole dramatization IMO.
Both shows made me feel uncomfortable – that there is an element of cynicism making these shows about crimes purely because the broadcasters think they will get big audience numbers, not because these are stories that need telling. I wonder if the time for these two stories to be dramatized has now past – and that we should be telling more positive, contemporary stories. I don’t know, it’s a difficult one – I just know personally I had no interest in continuing to watch the rest of either show after I’d seen the first episodes – I didn’t find watching them a comfortable experience.
I would be very interested to know if you agree or disagree with this!
A new show just out on Netflix, adapted from a graphic novel by Si Spencer, which I haven’t yet watched.
Si was a fellow script editor in the BBC Drama Series way back when. He was a lovely guy with a wicked sense of humour (I remember he had a line of very dark Princess Diana jokes in the weeks after her death which you couldn’t help but laugh at). I remember him always with a grin on his face – he was very smart and very nice and died a couple of years ago – way too young. It’s very sad that he’s not around to enjoy this success.
It would be great to hear your responses to any of my opinions – whether you’ve seen anything you’d like to recommend or rave about at the London Film Festival (or any other films or TV for that matter), whether you’d like to strongly disagree with my take on mainstream UK TV factual dramas. Or anything else that has sparked some thoughts. It sometimes feels like I’m sending this newsletter out into a vast echoing void, particularly in the last few weeks – so it would be great to enter into more of a dialogue…
CONTENT LONDON Nov 27th – 30th
For those interested in TV drama, the highlights will include –
The C21 drama series competition finalists talking about their scripts
The C21 International Drama Series Pitch – always really interesting to see drama producers from around the world pitching their new shows and development projects.
A chance to see screenings of new TV drama from around the world
Guest speakers will include TV drama commissioners from most of the UK broadcasters & streamers.
With the news of the cancellation of BBC’s daily continuing drama series Doctors, yet another entry point for TV screenwriters has been shut off (hard to take so soon after the axing of Holby). It’s a particular shame that the BBC makes these announcements without anything lined up to replace these shows that are so important for the industry. So many writers, directors, script editors, producer and more have learnt their crafts on the show – as well as providing great entertainment for the sizeable BBC lunchtime audience.
So what will replace Doctors? What gateway drama show will provide these opportunities for writers in particular?
Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld
A book I read recently and loved. There’s a ‘meta’ quality to it in its ironic examination of the whole rom-com genre but it’s a lovely, beautifully constructed and very well-told story in its own right. I raced through it in a couple of days. Just the boost of positivity I needed. I’d also highly recommend Rodham by the same writer.
Bridget St John & The Power of Folk Memory – Tracey Thorn in the New Statesman
Another piece of writing to which I really responded. A short article but it really packs an emotional punch. Tracey Thorn’s New Statesman articles are also good but this is particularly enjoyable (and I’d also highly recommend her books and her music – both solo and with Everything But The Girl – what a talent.
The Covid Enquiry
Live coverage on the BBC website has kept distracting me from the brilliant scripts I’m lucky enough to read for the 2024 Channel 4 screenwriting course. In particular Dominic Cummings on Tuesday. John Crace has it spot-on in his Guardian response. In fact John Crace and Marina Hyde are so helpful in the way their brilliant writing enables me to channel my rage at these people in power who were responsible for so many unnecessary deaths.
Levels of narcissism and self-justification that are off the scale and not a shred of self-awareness or emotional intelligence in his determination to throw everybody under the bus and accept no personal responsibility whatsoever for anything that went wrong. I can’t imagine how relatives of those killed by covid must feel watching this worm (Cummings).
In fact what has struck me about so many of those in power at the time now giving evidence is their lack of emotional intelligence – but more worryingly their seeming lack of general intelligence. Especially with Cummings but with several of the others (Martin Reynolds, Lee Cain, Johnson, Hancock, etc) they just don’t seem at all bright.
These people are all fascinating to reflect on for fictional characterisation!
The Old Oak – Ken Loach / Paul Laverty
The perfect antidote to the egocentric, dishonest poison of people like Dominic Cummings. Ken Loach is a national treasure. There is so much genuine passion, integrity and good sense in this film.
Until the next one,
Friday November 1st 2023