Slapstick to serious can be a bumpy ride

Miranda Hart has made the best of moving from comedy to drama, says Gerard Gilbert

So what do we think of Miranda Hart's performance so far in Call the Midwife?

Or, rather, what do we think of Miranda's entrée into the world of straight acting, in what some critics keep referring to as BBC1's "surprise hit" (ie the sort of programme they would not normally watch)?

Personally, I have found it quite hard to judge, because Hart's character, Chummy, almost amounts to a case of typecasting as she accidentally upsets a hospital trolley, learns to ride a bicycle, and so forth. In fact, when I interviewed Hart just before Christmas, she worried that this bordering-on-slapstick stuff wasn't removed enough from her BBC1 comedy. "Where she knocks over something I slightly cringe," she told me. "Viewers might be expecting me to go for a quick laugh."

What this viewer has kept expecting Hart to do is to have a quick look at the camera, in the same way her comic alter-ego mugs in Miranda. As it happened, Hart/Chummy's eyes do seem a bit restless, perhaps with the effort of finding somewhere else to rest. And then she kept baring her teeth in an Upper Class Twit of the Year fashion. But if Miranda is learning how to ride the bicycle of straight drama, then she has got herself on a runaway two-wheeler. Call the Midwife's ratings (nine million and rising – almost Downton numbers) meant it earned a recommission after just two episodes.

The temptation for comedians to branch out into straight drama is a strong one. It's a chance to prove that they are more than a one-trick pony, while drama commissions are rather thicker on the ground than comedy ones. Perhaps it's why they got into comedy in the first place – with half an eye on the acting fast track. And don't all jokers, from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton onwards, want to show that they have a serious side? Hell, even Jerry Lewis – more of a cartoon than a human being – became the straight man in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy. His co-star, Robert De Niro, has of course since travelled in the opposite direction.

The more eclectic the personality, the more likely they are to break into straight. Robin Williams has been shedding his comic persona since Dead Poets Society in 1989, but it wasn't until Christopher Nolan's Insomnia in 2002 that he finally managed to rid himself of the need to be liked. Eddie Izzard could probably take up painting or politics or poetry without pausing for breath, but his appearance in a Second World War German general's uniform in Valkyrie might have surprised people used to him wearing a skirt. Is he any good? I thought that his Long John Silver in Sky1's Treasure Island was left rather exposed by mixing with the likes of Donald Sutherland and Elijah Wood. I reckoned the same of Steve Martin in Lawrence Kasdan's 1991 ensemble drama, Grand Canyon, although Martin's great chum, Billy Connolly, did a sterling job reining in his natural exuberance in Mrs Brown.

But then a certain broadness is to be expected. It's perhaps why producers of Dickens adaptations favour them: Catherine Tate, Alistair McGowan and Johnny Vegas in BBC1's Bleak House, and Dawn French and Paul Whitehouse in their David Copperfield. The same goes for ITV1's Miss Marple whodunits – hammy affairs that easily incorporate the likes of Harry Enfield, Jessica Hynes and Alexei Sayle.

And then there are the graduates of Cambridge University Footlights, most notably Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie, who have seemingly had no problem moving into straight acting – something which might not be entirely disconnected to the supreme self-confidence fostered by that establishment. And the future for Miranda Hart? You've got to be kidding. Between them, Miranda and Call the Midwife will have Hart's diary stitched up for the foreseeable.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little