Television Review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THERE WAS a time when the kitchen sink was a paradigm of gritty working-class realism - the kitchen sink in question would probably be overflowing with greasy water and unwashed tea-cups, an image of banal drudgery. The only kitchen sink we glimpsed in Tina Goes Shopping (C4) was splattered with blood and had a cow's head poking out of it. Clearly, something has changed, but what? The reality, or just the realism?

Penny Woolcock's drama, like her earlier Macbeth on the Estate, was acted by "real" people reflecting their own lives (according to the press blurb, Woolcock found her cast by turning off the M1 at random). It's worth noticing the extent to which this particular brand of realism gets applied to northern poverty - Ken Loach's Kes (coming soon to a cinema near you) is the obvious precursor; and a couple of weeks back BBC2 gave us the excellent, understated Twockers, in which teenagers living on Lancashire council estates played themselves, more or less.

Tina Goes Shopping was set on an estate in Leeds, where, as Tina explained in her opening narration, "There's only one road to get in or out, so we never see no strangers. Apart from me boyfriend Aaron, that is. He wandered in two years ago but nobody can remember why." This set up nicely the film's main theme - here was a life lived entirely in the present, with no future, and no past to help you make sense of it all. A life cut off from the world outside: socially excluded, to coin a phrase.

This sense of a lack of direction to some extent afflicted the drama, which meandered from incident to incident, never quite settling to one tone. At times, it felt like quasi-documentary, as when Tina went "shopping" (that is, nicking stuff to order). Elsewhere, it shifted into a muted surrealism, as when Aaron was discovered soaked in blood and surrounded by pieces of cow, or when the barman in the local pub sang operatic arias in a pleasing light tenor (a scene that felt more than a little reminiscent of The Boys from the Blackstuff). Sometimes it just felt contrived, as when Tina's drug-dealer father, Don, chatted casually about Henry Moore and Mary Poppins.

Things weren't helped by some heavy-footed irony: Tina, visiting a bridal shop and trying on a hugely expensive dress, mused lovingly on Aaron - "We're like two halves of the same person. I think we'll be together forever." But the viewer already knew that Aaron had been stealing money from her to buy crack.

This self-consciousness damaged the film's credentials as a reflection of reality; but it added to its impact as drama: there was a high-spiritedness, a sense of holiday, that gave it an infectious edge, made it more than merely watchable. And self- consciousness added something to the acting - in particular, Kelly Hollis's Tina had a touching vulnerability that had more to do with her uneasy relationship with the camera than with your sense of her circumstances. Perhaps in our media-canny society, plain old realism has become impossible; but on this showing, we shouldn't be pulling the plug on the kitchen sink just yet.