Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, ITV - TV review: 'Tommy Cooper lives, but where did his early years disappear to?'
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 22 April 2014
David Threlfall, the actor famous for playing deadbeat dad Frank Gallagher in Shameless, took the title role in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, ITV's feature-length drama about the god of variety television. The role required him to stumble about drunkenly, brawl in the street and profess his love for his family, while simultaneously hurting his family – so, actually, it wasn't much of a departure.
Cooper's act often involved him conversing with imaginary off-stage interlocutors, but it was the people who really were watching and waiting behind the scenes that this film mainly concerned. His long-suffering agent Miff Ferrie (Rab C Nesbitt actor Gregor Fisher), the wife who "gave as good as she got", Gwen "Dove" Cooper (Amanda Redman) and his mistress of 17 years Mary Kay (Helen McCrory). All the performances were excellent, but there was something in the interactions between Redman and Threlfall, which captured a feisty, sweary, yet loving marriage particularly well.
When ITV revealed plans for this biopic, a representative of the Tommy Cooper Society expressed concerns that it would tarnish his memory, by delving into his episodes of alcoholism and violence. They needn't have worried.
The script, by Men Behaving Badly writer Simon Nye, was hardly feminist revisionism, and the closest it got to addressing domestic violence was a close-up of Cooper's clenched fist, which then cut to Mary, on a train the next day, wearing dark glasses. His death, by contrast, was depicted in minute-by-minute detail. This might seem a contradiction, until you consider how much the manner of Cooper's passing – on stage, during a live television performance – has added to his cult appeal. As admiring performers often say, he died doing what he loved best.
It's what was left out of this biopic, not what was put in, which rankled most. By picking the story up in 1966, when Cooper was already middle-aged, we lost insight into his fascination with magic tricks and how he honed his act while stationed in Egypt during the war (hence the fez). It's not like there wasn't time enough in a two-hour film to cover these sides of the man.
As it was, the line which best summed up this portrayal of Cooper was delivered by his exasperated son Tom Jr (Andy Rush) in reference to his infidelity: "So that was your biggest trick of all? Watch me have my cake and eat it?" That doesn't seem quite fair. We know Cooper had many more tricks, much better than that one.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 2 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
- 4 Amy Winehouse unpublished 2004 interview: ‘Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby’
- 5 Dutch paedophile club to fight their ban at the European Court of Human Rights
Immigration Street meeting sees local residents demand producers 'go away' and Channel 4 scrap planned series
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous film
Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains