Russian drama gets off to a shaky start
I mention these minor rough edges only because they raise the odd difficulty of making films which pretend to be foreign. What the film-makers clearly want here is Russianness through and through - otherwise they would have made Brian Cox a Scottish policeman sent on assignment to St Petersburg rather than what he is, an embattled Russian patriot confused at the pace of change. But a clash of cultures was not what they were after - they wanted to give a sense of immersion, of the nation as it is lived by the natives. That said, the last thing they wanted was for Grushko to look like a Russian television programme and, just occasionally, it did. Local colour has its expenses.
Language presents a particular problem. In Grushko the Russians all speak with their own accents (that is British regional accents) while the Chechen and Georgian gangsters say things like 'Yoe tell me, yoe're thee feelth.' For some reason (which may have to do with the acting of some bit-parts) this has you checking lip movements to see if scenes have been dubbed. Perhaps it's just the translation - I can buy the Russians as given to poetic gloom ('The truth is coarse in our mouths and ugly to hear,' says Grushko's boss at one point) but when the gangsters start using words like 'filth' and 'snout' things feel less comfortable - if you have to translate into the cliches of British villainy then what's the point of going all the way to St Petersburg? The central pretence of such films, in fact, is that no act of translation is taking place, that the barriers of language and culture have become invisible. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that they should stub their toes on them
But Grushko isn't a failure. Brian Cox's stolid melancholy is just right for the times - a policeman who sees greed and rapacity in Russia's new mood - and the script is alert to the peculiar generational tensions of the place. Grushko and his daughter share a contempt for what Russia has become but are entirely at odds over what has made it that way - he thinks it is the greed of the market-place, she thinks it is an inherited corruption and apathy. He still has to correct old habits of mind, talking about 'the Wes . . . the rest of the world'. She already dreams of leaving.
There are some nice scenes too which pick up on the speed of change. Grushko is forced to go on television against his will, to report on the investigation into the murder of a popular television personality. 'There's really nothing to worry about,' says his interviewer, 'I'm just going to ask you a few routine questions,' a reversal of roles which was one of the main themes of this first episode, which explored the vacuum of authority which allows the mafia to thrive. It's a brave or foolhardy scriptwriter who includes a line like 'I don't know what anyone believes in any more', but Cox almost got away with it, abetted by your knowledge that the cliche may have some force in St Petersburg today. The city itself is wonderful - that opening shot gives you a brisk tour of the sights but after that you're down alleyways and in courtyards - crumbling brickwork, peeling paint and botched repairs which make their point without the need for subtitles.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 The Tory donor whose firm is one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders - with HMRC's blessing
- 4 John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
- 5 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
Comic-Con 2014: Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch and Game of Thrones' George RR Martin set to attend
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
George R. R. Martin responds to 13-year-old fan's 'heartfelt' letter asking for a grisly death in Game of Thrones
Watch Susan Boyle sing 'Mull Of Kintyre' at the Commonwealth Games 2014 opening ceremony
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