TV Reviews

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"This is the day look," said a woman called Garbo, peering out from enough make-up to stop a dum-dum bullet, "night-time is a bit heavier." Something similar could be said of Soho - jauntily bohemian by day, but a lot heavier by night, when alcohol (and worse) can make the village turn vicious. There isn't much of that yet in evidence in Soho Stories (BBC2), Christopher Terrill's observational soap, a series which has been unconventionally filmed (he worked alone with a high-quality video camera) and also been unconventionally scheduled - in late-night bursts of three programmes in succession.

Instead, last night's opener was intent on enchantment, seducing you with the glamour of urbanity - the collision of high and low in the same narrow streets - and though it began inauspiciously, with a rather cliched "the city awakes" montage (croissants baking, milk-floats rattling, posties whistling), it soon built into something more intriguing. While the technology involved does have its costs - fudgy colour contrasts and some horribly grainy zooms - it pays off in terms of intimacy, with Terrill able to draw amiable confessional banter out of his subjects. I'm sceptical about his suggestion that they actually forget the presence of the camera, but if these remain performances, they are performances for one rather than for the unpredictable audience of a four- or five-person camera team - and that makes a difference. The feel of long Soho nights, tumbling from one bar to the next, would presumably also have been much harder to capture if Terrill had had to fret about a camera-crew's hideously mounting overtime payments.

Garbo, incidentally, is a drama teacher, and you did at first wonder whether she had been wise to choose a name which might arouse unfeasible expectations in her students - it was as if a physics crammer was to work under the name Einstein. But it soon became clear that Garbo is not a woman to be troubled by the opinions of others - she is one of those serenely unreflective personalities who flicker between the touching (scanning the grass of Soho Square for lost coins) and the infuriating (delivering a rambling moral homily because some hapless tourist had unwittingly placed his bag outside her front door).

Other characters aroused similarly equivocal feelings - the court of Keith Waterhouse, a gaggle of middle-aged men gradually getting sozzled as they roamed the streets, looked stupefyingly dull at first, but slowly grew on you as their gait became more lurching. Perhaps Addison and Steele ended a long night like this, you thought, leaning on each other for support and saying: "No, NO! Thash bollocks that."

Whether the late-night slot will deliver the sort of attentive viewers the films require is another question entirely - the ennui of being caught in a bomb alert was rendered a touch too faithfully for my taste, and you have to be patient for other pleasures, which only come after more conventional material. I've lost count of the number of drag queens I've seen tittivating themselves on screen, and Terrill's example didn't offer much that was new until you saw him tottering off to work in his high heels, reading off the variable safety of the streets as he went. The topology of threat was worth the wait (three steps off Old Compton Street and his heart began to pound) but some, I suspect, might have dropped off while waiting.

More urban colour in Cracker (ITV), which had decided it would be nice to go to Hong Kong and then had to drum up a plot to justify the decision. I think they must have taken one of their old ones to a 24-hour tailor and asked him to run up a copy because this was pretty tired stuff, and the seams gaped if you put any pressure on the material. "We should never have been here - none of us, not just you," says Fitz to the English killer, a desperately late attempt to incorporate a bit of local politics into the psychological narrative. Like any cheap suit, it wouldn't wash.

Comments