Television Review

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The Independent Culture
"NOSTALGIA AIN'T what it used to be" goes the old joke. But it's true, it really has gone downhill. People used to come over all misty- eyed when they talked about the Blitz and how we all pulled together; or they might pine for the days when you could go out and leave your back door open. This was almost certainly nonsense, but it was rooted in perfectly laudable aspirations towards a more heroic, more caring society. And where is nostalgia now? In the early 1980s, rooted in aspirations for floppy haircuts and drum machines. A couple of weeks ago, Channel 4 devoted airtime to the New Romantic hits of the 1980s; and last night we got Hunting Venus (ITV), a comedy-drama about a bunch of New Romantic one-hit wonders, The Venus Hunters.

A longing for the familiar manifested itself in several ways, not least the underlying plot - reluctant musicians forced to get together for one last gig (cf The Blues Brothers, et al) - and the casting, which gave star billing to Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey. In this variation on the theme, the Clunes character, now earning a living as a petty crook, was blackmailed by the girls who used to run the band's fan club into organising a reunion, handicapped by the fact that the other band members all hated Clunes, none of them could actually play an instrument, one of them was in a mental hospital, one of them had had a sex change, and nobody was very interested in their one, rather feeble hit anyway.

There were quite a lot of incidental pleasures to be had here, from the seaside opening in which the sound of a flock of seagulls gave way to the sound of A Flock of Seagulls, performing their one hit, "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)", which got to number 10 in 1982. Along the way, we got one or two deft jokes about the 1980s - sipping a cocktail called an Enola Gay, Clunes mused: "Essence of Margaret Thatcher and the fuel-injected Ford Capri" - plus a handful of star cameos (Simon Le Bon, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Phil Oakey and the girls of Human League) and the name of The Venus Hunters' fan club, "Intra Venus". But given the wealth of trivia generated by the period, Nick Vivian's script seemed oddly short of allusions: Gary Numan, Ultravox and eyeliner kept cropping up.

Despite a modern readiness to offer a transsexual and a lesbian couple as sympathetic characters, the film had some very old- fashioned attitudes: one character, played by Mark Williams, had an appalling stutter which reflected, so you gathered, his instability (he had suffered a nervous breakdown), which led to him dressing in a tutu and a Viking helmet. Meanwhile, the mentally-ill one (Ben Miller) was a kind of fool- saint, stripped of ego by his condition.

What the film did get right was the way that nostalgia lends cheap music its potency, and elevates our personal tragedies over world events - for the characters here, the summer of 1982 was about losing your virginity and "Hungry Like the Wolf" getting into the charts, not about the Falklands War. But it didn't need to take two hours to make that point; this was a story of lost times in a way it didn't intend.

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