Television review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Dentistry has had its day on screen before, but only as a refinement of terror. In Marathon Man Olivier worked away at Dustin Hoffman's expensive overbite, proving to the audience what it really knew already, that the dentist's chair is a realm of pain. In Captives (BBC2), on the other hand, the director Angela Pope pulls off the rather less familiar feat of making dentistry sexy. It doesn't do any harm that the dentist is Julia Ormond, it's true, but the trick wouldn't have worked without the film's perception of the sensual intimacy of dental work - the way that hands touch lips, that faces lean close together and heads are pulled close to breasts. Add to that the fact that her patients are all inmates of a high security prison, men who would be prepared to endure root canal work to brush up against a woman, and you have the potential for scenes of slightly startling sensuality. "Bite," orders Ormond, while trying to take an impression. Tim Roth obeys, catching her finger between his teeth and pressing until she winces. He makes an impression. They have earlier consummated their affair with some urgent, fumbling lovemaking in a ladies lavatory (Roth is allowed out on day release for computer courses) but this scene is infinitely more erotic.

It isn't the only moment when the functional becomes charged with sexual potential: when the two first meet the camera closes with a fetishist's interest as Ormond pulls on her latex gloves. Roth, whose seductive trademark mode of dumb interrogation is perfectly placed here, watches her as you might watch a naked woman getting dressed. And the ambiguities extend to other areas too - the oddity of their relationship only magnifying the risks of any surrender to sexual attraction: "What do you know about him?" asks Ormond's friend, aghast at the revelation that the new boyfriend is a convict. "I know he doesn't wear dentures," Ormond jokes, but her fears can't be quietened so easily. "I'll get you back for that," he calls to her, after they have bumped into each other in a supermarket. He means he'll return the 20p she has had to sub him but the remark touches an exposed nerve in her and Pope makes sure that we share her uncertainty - when attacked in prison Roth responds with abrupt, unmeasured violence, but is then sensitive enough to be just as violently sick. Ormond finds her judgements thrown out of kilter by her agitation: the shaven-headed thug she recoils from on the stairs returns a cheery "Hare Krishna"; the young Asian woman she takes to be her estranged husband's mistress turns out to be an estate agent. Captives ends badly - with a thriller plot of coercion and threat finally winning out over the far more subtle and perceptive romance that has preceded it - Ormond shoots the man who has tried to force her to smuggle a gun into the prison, instead of simply going to the authorities and weathering the bearable consequences. This final implausibility was a pity - but the first 50 minutes had been good enough to make you forgive a great deal worse. "You had to be awful careful you didn't get seduced," said one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's old associates in last week's episode of BBC2's television biography. FDR itself took no care at all in this respect - one of the pleasures of the series being its unreserved commitment to its subject, a quite un-English readiness to expose its emotions. It ended this week with Roosevelt's sudden death and the last railroad journey of the coffin, along tracks lined for miles and miles with those who mourned him most - the poor and dispossessed. The final words were Churchill's - "Meeting Roosevelt," he said, "was like uncorking your first bottle of champagne." The whole thing, lavishly archived and beautifully constructed, has been just a whisker this side of outright idolatry, and all the more enjoyable for it. In cynical times it isn't often you get a chance to give admiration such an unstinted work- out.

Comments