The Singing Detective

by , under film

All the girls were off to the Harry Potter premiere: Prima with BFF and BFF’s new boyfriend in another town, Secunda with two friends who she brought home in the small hours, Tertia with a large sprawling group and crashing at one of the gang’s house. So we thought we’d have a movie of our own. It turned into a movie marathon, because what we watched was the BBC miniseries of The Singing Detective.

Poster (wikimedia)The first instalment (of six) was so strange that we wanted to watch the second to see if we could make head or tail of it, though neither of us really liked it — it was full of Nasty People. Also confusing because there were at least three story threads running concurrently, but that seemed to be the point.

After the second instalment we looked at one another and said that if we stopped now, we’d never have the guts to start again and watch the rest, so we put on the second DVD. The third and fourth parts were really interesting, and some of the people were sort of all right, and the noir subthread (about the actual singing detective) took on a life of its own, though the autobiographical 1940s (I wonder why Wikipedia insists on calling it 1930s when it had the protagonist’s mother on the train reading a newspaper with the news of the fall of Hitler) subthread became nastier.

We put on the third DVD when it was already close to our usual bedtime. Now we wanted to know how it ended! And it went downhill from there: fiction encroached on reality, and though it was done very well it did muddle up our new-found understanding. Also, it didn’t end satisfactorily: the protagonist went home with his horrible perhaps-not-ex-wife without having cleared up the loose ends. (I read somewhere in these pages that the loose ends were mostly fictional. Well, it didn’t show.) And he turned out to have been an unpleasant boy, grown into an unpleasant man though that last can be partly excused because it’s not easy to live with psoriasis as bad as that.

I don’t think it would be aired nowadays because of all the smoking; in fact smoking was a plot point. There was so much smoke in the series that it made my other half short of breath just from watching it. It annoyed me at first, but when I realised it was a plot point, and also very much in period, I didn’t mind so much. Though it’s strange that even in the 1980s someone would be allowed to smoke in a hospital ward!

I should perhaps watch it again to see all the things I’ve missed, but I’m not looking forward to the Nasty People, and the psychotherapist’s psychologising, and the fact that nobody (except perhaps the slow-reading petty thief and the pretty nurse) is really nice, and the less than happy ending. And Mark Finney, who gets under my skin. I’m certain there’s a correlation between the condition of the protagonist’s skin and the development of the story, for instance, but I could only grasp at hints.

There were some high points, though: the Irish ward sister who wasn’t nice as such but pleasantly brisk, and recognising faces from the real world used in the fictional world, and most of the songs (I do want to learn Blues in the Night). Also, the policeman without imagination (“Where was he stabbed?” “Tottenham Court Road.” “Where?” “Oh. The throat.”)

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