Pig Heart Boy

Thursday, December 23, 1999 by

At a time when the rural/fantasy axis of children’s drama is ever more dependent on co-productions (enjoyable though they may often be) and the urban/contemporary/realist axis has largely been brought down to a soapified Grange Hill and Byker Grove, with no identifiable beginnings or endings, the arrival of this adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s novel, a runner-up for the 1998 Carnegie Medal, was welcome.

The fact that all the central characters are black shouldn’t matter, but with the pressure to represent an outmoded vision of Britain that co-productions tend to bring on, unfortunately it does.

If there’s a problem with PHB, it’s the music (too soft and not dramatic enough) and the fact that it can sometimes seem a little too worthy, the dialogue occasionally resembling “dramatised position-papers”, as Mark Lawson said in The Guardian. Sometimes you want the greater viscerality we had in the ’80s from the likes of Running Scared or Break in the Sun. But …

Pig Heart Boy - basically about a 13-year-old who has to have a pig’s heart transplant to live – was a very well-acted and well-written piece. It may have had quite a few contemporary references (Chelsea FC, the Vengaboys playing in the first episode) but it didn’t suffer anything like as much as it might have done from the ’90s’ most abiding trend in children’s TV, the imbuing of it with “hipness” at the expense of more enduring dramatic values. Although the overall look of Pig Heart Boy was still glossier than I’d have preferred, it managed to get across Cameron’s feelings of betrayal towards Marlon when the story was sold to the tabloids, and his feelings that he had to achieve certain targets in football and swimming, even if he endangered his life, much better than some of us feared. The attack on Cameron by an animal-rights extremist at the end of episode five was a very effective cliffhanger, as well.

After reaching a low point of depression in the final episode, Cameron’s awareness of his grandmother’s mortality convinced him to carry on (a genuine learning curve for him, as opposed to the ongoing soaps, with their fast-moving, uncontemplative quality). The final scene, with the birth of Cameron’s baby brother, was, admittedly, weak and rather sappy in its execution. But I anticipated the last episode with something close to the anticipation I had as a child, which must say something positive.


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