The Weekend's Viewing: Melancholy Isaacs prevents a case of cosiness
Case Histories, Sun, BBC1 / Sincerely, F Scott Fitzgerald: a Culture Show Special, Sat, BBC2
Never work with children or animals, said W C Fields.
Not much choice, though, for Jason Isaacs, who plays Kate Atkinson’s wounded Edinburgh detective Jackson Brodie in a new run of Case Histories, which began with an adaptation of her novel Started Early, Took My Dog, a story preoccupied with parental yearnings and protective instinct. Brodie is a Chandleresque type, a walker of mean streets who is “not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”. But whereas the tenderness in Chandler is generally aimed at someone who can cast a shapely and feminine shadow on a frosted door, Brodie usually displays his inner tenderness through paternity. Imagine Sam Spade with a daughter and you have the essential twist that Atkinson has given to an old archetype.
It gets another twist in this story because Brodie does actually begin in tarnished condition, at least in his own eyes, having been tricked into abducting a young girl from her mother in a custody case (Brodie thought he was returning her to the mother). And everything that follows seems to press on his buried feelings about his own daughter, now thousands of miles away in New Zealand with his estranged wife. One of the first cases he gets, after pushing through the piled-up bills and pizza leaflets behind his front door, is that of an adopted woman looking for her birth mother, a story of proxy motherhood that is echoed by the other main narrative thread, in which a soft-hearted security guard (played by Victoria Wood) buys a little girl to get her out of the hands of her abusive mother.
The animal is a blow-in, a Border terrier that attaches itself to Brodie after he’s stepped in to prevent it being thrashed by a skin-headed thug. And it makes you feel a little wary for a while. There is, after all, a consumer’s version of WC Fields’ remark, which would run, “Never watch children or animals”, on account of the way in which they can so easily lure narratives into cuteness or a deceptive sentiment. There’s a bit of that with the dog, a hovering threat of cosiness. But Peter Harness’s adaptation, and Isaacs’ melancholy performance, kept it in check. There was a nice line at the end, too, when he met up with an old flame and she insisted on the superiority of her new man. “You’re not exciting,” she told him, “You’re boring. This is boring.” A bold line to have delivered to your hero, even if it’s made perfectly clear that she doesn’t fully believe what she’s saying. And refreshingly unusual, too, to end such a story with the consummation of parental yearnings, not romantic ones.
In Sincerely, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jay McInerney, laureate of one period of youthful New York hedonism, profiled his great predecessor in the field in a film surfing on the bow-wave of hype that has preceded the release of Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, but fortunately not actually swamped by it. Once the obligatory film clip had been got out of the way at the beginning, it turned out to be a thoughtful literary profile, pointing up some illuminating cross-overs between Fitzgerald’s private and public writings. It was a writing life that made things hard for those who despise the biographical fallacy – the idea that a novel is just a disguised and repackaged form of the author’s life – because in Fitzgerald’s case there often wasn’t much of disguising going on.
McInerney’s script, quite apart from being more literate than is sometimes the case, was an object lesson in judicious quotation, full of telling selections from the letters. The most poignant? A hopeful line from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his last love, Sheila Graham: “It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself,” he wrote, a line that echoes the rueful, start-again spirit of the last page of Gatsby. His own heart didn’t, sadly.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
The Walking Dead, Remember, review: The discovery of a new community leads Rick to a dark decision
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'