Drama: How to slip up in the salle de bain

This Could Be The Last Time BBC2
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The Independent Culture
Single dramas are in a cleft stick: they're as long as movies, but never have so long spent on them. The BBC screens about 20 a year. Of the four in the last month - Peggy Su!, Touch and Go, Big Cat and now This Could Be The Last Time, written by George Day - all but one script has needed a couple of more rotations on the spit. But time and money are usually too short for that, and the director, in this case Gavin Millar, ends up relying on the performances to come to the rescue.

This Could Be The Last Time assembled as gilded a cast of thespian aristocracy as you'll find this side of John Gielgud's memorial service. While they all did what they always do as beautifully as ever, the problem was that nothing more was asked. Like Millar, himself best known for Dream Child, in which an elderly Alice visits the US wonderland, they weren't required to go anywhere they hadn't been before, to surprise us or themselves.

Joan Plowright played Rosemary, an old woman on the lip of senile dementia who whisks herself off on a Parisian spree before she is forced to spend her savings on a geriatrics' home. She kept on seeing an old lover in the street, and as she drew her chin into itself in stern disbelief at her own and the world's decay, it was as if you kept on seeing an old performance. As her neighbour, Dorothy Tutin twinkled from under a grey bob with a kind of naughty pomposity that is her calling card these days. And as Plowright's fretfully dour daughter, Penelope Wilton did what you'd expect. She never finished any of her ... she couldn't quite . . . you know what I'm trying to...

When the acting is better than the writing, it accentuates the sense of waste. In place of originality, This Could Be The Last Time assembled familiar elements from a grab-bag of sources. The standard-issue exploration at an old woman's dread or senility was bolted on to an Anglo abroad plot, which was then filtered through the sort of improbable friendship with a child that old people in films strike up when they need to recover some jeu d'esprit. The boy in question, Jean-Pierre, was on the run with stolen drug money, which meant that the odd couple were key players in a missing persons drama. This in turn ushered in a brace of French cops and incompetent hoods on vacation from a farce.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, there were some nice touches. This is the first instance I know of Eurostar and Eurodisney playing themselves on British television. While Rosemary fantasised about an irrecoverable past, Jean-Pierre dreamed of an instant future embodied in Disney's Space Mountain. A shot of Jean-Pierre in a hotel bubble bath deftly re-routed the tantalising convention of the discreetly naked actress, reminding you that this was a tale of people either yet to enter or long since exited from the sexual arena.

A scene in which Tutin and Wilton talked to each other when a third party pressed a mobile phone to an intercom subtly underpinned the moral: that people should only connect. Unfortunately, most of the time Jean-Pierre and Rosemary connected in stilted Franglais. Plowright had speak lines like "if you are in trouble, dis-moi la verite." And la verite is that there is no chambre for stuff comme ca.

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