LAST NIGHT

TV Review: Holding On
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The Independent Culture
It's a slightly stressful business watching Holding On (BBC2), Tony Marchant's new series about the unknowing intimacy of city life. You never quite know where the camera is going to go next, or which of the characters will suddenly step forward to snatch at your attention. What's more there are none of the usual dramatic signposts - the recognisable architecture which would allow you to locate yourself in this alarming bustle. Even by the end of the second episode - wisely scheduled immediately after the first to allow the series to close it's grip - it isn't obvious where we are. I can't tell you what a relief that is - after so many dramas poured into the standard genre moulds, and poured rather miserly too. Here there are enough storylines for an entire autumn season - narrative lines which brush against each other or even tangle into a knot, but which don't seem to make any larger communal pattern. Fortunately this soon makes you alert (or paranoid) enough to notice the odd little clues that have been included. The stabbing that ended the first episode, for example, took place outside an Islington cinema which is showing Robert Altman's Short Cuts. Did that just happen to coincide with the shooting schedule, you wondered, or was the director trying to get a message to us - an allusion to another anthology of urban tales which might help us to find our bearings.

In any case stress is surely what Tony Marchant wants us to feel. Everybody in the cast seems to be under pressure of one kind or another: David Morrissey's tax-inspector Shaun, zealously pursuing a city fat-cat, is prone to sudden panic attacks, announced by a kind of tinnitus on the soundtrack; Marcus, a trainee chef and pirate DJ is being pressured by his jealous sister Janice; the taxi-driver who witnessed the murder is worried that his wife might be having an affair with his brother and Claire is trying to hold herself together after the murder of her sister by Alan, a paranoid schizophrenic. There are suggestions of links that will clarify here - Morrissey suffers his first panic attack after reading about the stabbing in the evening paper and he later goes to lay flowers at the site of the attack - but other connections seem to be glancing and contingent - part of the endless serendipity of city life. The old school-friend who bumps into Shaun in the supermarket carpark turns out to run the restaurant where Marcus works. You follow him not because he's going to feature in his own right (not yet, anyway) but because he provides the connection. Time and time again the drama changes stations to take a different route.

Adrian Shergold's direction has to be nimble to deal with this ambitious juggling act - but has proved equal to it so far - exploring a range of styles which vary from story to story. Phil Daniel's bulimic restaurant critic is given a kind of fisheye expressionism - sequences full of disconcerting eyelines, so that you are never quite sure whether he has made you an intimate, the direct recipient of his cocky, sneering confessions (it is in one of these sequences that you are given a point-of-view shot from the bottom of a toilet bowl as Daniels vomits up the expensive meal he has just eaten, to make room for a bag of crisps). At other times the style is cooler and more observational, though when the characters bump against each other so do the visual idioms. When Marcus and his friend Chris emerge from a club at one point, they pass Alan in the street - he's just been terrified by a shop window dummy and for a fleeting moment Shergold shows it moving - so that a paranoid vision gives way seamlessly to a sane one. "This place is sick" hisses Claire's bereaved father as he leaves her at Euston station - but Marchant's artful collage of metropolitan experience is oddly reminiscent of some recent advertising campaigns which have presented London as a place of vital strangeness. In his case he doesn't hide the fact that it can kill you, as well. Even so his city is well worth a visit.

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