Why today's screenwriters are going for the Young Jungs
Monday 24 October 1994
Unfortunately I just get letters and the odd newspaper clipping, most recently about BBC School's Scene (BBC2), a series of specially commissioned half-hour dramas. At a time when the extinction of the one-off drama is being lamented in mainstream broadcasting, Scene has included new works by writers such as Willy Russell, Tom Stoppard, Fay Weldon and, last Friday, Howard Schuman, whose 'Young Jung' was drawn to my attention by several correspondents.
Strictly speaking, his script wasn't new, having been looking for a slot for some time before Richard Langridge, Scene's executive producer, snapped it up. This hovers somewhere between a scandal or a cause for celebration; either it's disgraceful that writers of this calibre are reduced to school's programming to get single dramas on screen, or we should throw up a great cheer that our children are being nourished by the best available.
'Young Jung' pushed you towards the latter. I thought it was great, but it didn't exactly have the feel of an exile from the evening schedules.
Encouraged by a Jungian grandmother to exploit her talent for advising her classmates ('don't hate them, help them. But don't forget to charge') Rosa Rosenband sets up as an amateur analyst, aided by yellow Post-it notes scrawled with Jungian imperatives. She eventually resolves the problem of Emma H, a trust-funded 15-year-old with an addiction to shopping in New York. It was funny, instructive, and stylishly produced - a reminder of Schuman's wit and of the fact that studio-based drama can look as if it wanted to be there all along, rather than pining to be out on location. What about some for the evening schedules too? As Rosa's mother said in a sly post-credit joke, 'Do you take adults?'
Battle of Wills (BBC2) was an amusing survey of the Shakespearian identity crisis - presented with exemplary good manners. The person doing the rough-cut voiceover had trouble keeping a straight voice at some of the more lunatic moments but by transmission all was dispassionate and measured.
Stratfordians, Baconians, Oxfordians and Marlowe enthusiasts (Deptfordians?) were allowed to present their various cases, without any nudging or sniggering from the director.
Not that you needed it exactly - this is a world of conspiracy, of suppressed evidence, terrified academics, establishment cover-ups. It is a world in which Atlantology and the Rosicrucians have walk-on parts, in which the tiniest detail bears ponderous meaning but the most obvious objections are ignored, in which phrases like 'so-called' and 'no coincidence' recur.
At times it is hilarious, as when one dignified gentleman revealed, with the help of some fudging, that the name Francis Bacon is concealed in the inscription of William Shakespeare's memorial in Poet's Corner. It would be astounding if it wasn't, given the commonness of the letters and the length of the inscription; in fact I can now reveal that the names Salman Rushdie and Babar the Elephant are in there too. It is all harmless I suppose, but it does seem a pity that the sound of the poetry should be drowned out for these people by the insistent rattle of loose screws.
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