Last Night's Viewing: We'll Take Manhattan, BBC4
Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy, E4
Sutcliffe's Third Law of Dodgy Dialogue runs as follows: "If an East End character employs both elements of a bit of rhyming slang then they are probably a Cockernee – television's caricature of an East Ender – rather than the real thing." Example: a young jack-the-lad photographer asks his assistant: "What happened to that bird from Pinner with the big Eartha Kitts?" If he'd said this at all, surely he would have said "big Earthas", and left it at that. But, since the audience can't be trusted to work it out, or, possibly, to know that Kitt follows Eartha, it had to be clumsily signposted in We'll Take Manhattan, John McKay's drama about David Bailey's romance with Jean Shrimpton. Bailey spent quite a bit of time being a Cockernee in this film because one of its themes was the clash between the brash young upstarts who would make the Sixties swing and the old guard who thought it was vulgar for it to move at all.
McKay began her story before Bailey and Shrimpton first met. He's about to kick over the social ladder, she's just got her foot on its first rungs, taking a course with Lucie Clayton, where deportment and elocution are central to the curriculum. Jean is engaged to Richard, a dull chap who smokes a pipe and talks motoring with her irascibly conventional father. But then Bailey starts in with his seductive studio patter ("You'd look good in a pearl necklace... Maybe I could help you out with that") and good girl Jean starts to hanker for something wilder. When Bailey is asked to go to New York for a feature called "Young Idea Goes West", he insists that the Shrimp goes with him, and their relationship deepens. And while Karen Gillan isn't strictly as rangy or high-cheekboned as she needs to be to match the original, she's easily photogenic enough to make you suspend your disbelief. As Bailey, Aneurin Barnard preened and posed as if he was having his portrait done for Vogue himself, but also conveyed the cheeky self-assurance that powered Bailey to the top.
McKay has a lot of fun with the clash of old Vogue stalwarts and new blood. As Lady Clare Rendlesham, Bailey's boss on the New York trip, Helen McCrory delivers a woman appalled to discover that the rules have been changed mid-game. Bailey won't even get out a tripod and stubbornly turns his back on landmark locations to pose Shrimpton against street signs and urban grot. There's a nice scene in which Rendlesham and Bailey engage in a ferocious exchange of adjectives, both of them describing the same shots. Grainy, blurry, cheap and messy are Rendlesham's words. Energetic, fresh, young and vibrant are Bailey's. And occasionally you felt that McKay was having a little too much fun with Rendlesham, who surely can't have been quite as blinkered as she was depicted here. The best moments in the drama were when McCrory was allowed to explore her sense of hurt and exclusion; the worst were when Bailey stopped being a charismatic little chancer and turned into a kind of Braveheart of fashion photography: "There's a new world coming," he says at the climax of one row with Rendlesham, "where people will be beautiful and will be applauded not because of who their daddy was but because of who they are here and now in front of the camera!" Rhyming slang would have been better frankly.
Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy is cheap, messy, energetic and... eventually... funny. You may begin thinking it's just garish self-indulgence, but then, after you've been breathing the atmosphere of the planet he lives on for a while, you get a bit giddy and start to giggle. Characters include Sergeant Raymond Boombox, a New York detective with a garrulous knife wound on his arm. If you haven't come out in a rash after reading that, it may be safe for you to watch.
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