Trials, tribulations

Sunday, January 21, 2007 by

Somes I’m just too slow when it comes to getting things done. A case in point: Some days ago Paul Stump sent me a review of The Trial of Tony Blair which I only got around to putting on the site this afternoon… at which point Ian Jones had sent me his take on the same show. I don’t want to put two reviews of the same thing online, so, Ian’s sadly gets consigned to the offal bin. This blog.

Here’s Ian’s review. Next time, I’ll try and be quicker off the mark so people don’t double-up inadvertently …

Thursday 18/01/07, Channel 4
reviewed by Ian Jones

Who’d have thought Michael Murray would end up running the country?

For that is pretty much what was on offer here: the combustive, twitching, dystopian hero of GBH reborn as Prime Minister of the nation, packing just as much fury and folly as when he was first brought low all those years ago in an unnamed northern city by a gaggle of political capers.

For anyone at all familiar with Alan Bleasdale’s seismically significant Channel 4 drama, it was nigh on impossible to not believe Robert Lindsay was, unconsciously or otherwise, distilling the potent essences of his earlier creation into his depiction of Tony Blair. In fact, the similarities were almost too obvious to be believed.

The sudden switching between moods of blistering wit and blustering self-pity; the waves of unimpeachable arrogance subsiding, literally in a second, into whimpers of overwhelming guilt; above all the armoury of tics and affectations and bizarre gestures growing ever more preposterous in the face of mounting crisis – they were all here, and all served to load this wholly unrelated, story with incorrigible baggage.

Which, as it turned out, was no bad thing. There was precious little else by way of substance residing within either the script or direction of The Trial of Tony Blair. Subtract Lindsay and his legacy from the proceedings and you would have been faced with slim pickings indeed.

No other big names populated the cast; none of the dozens of small names delivered anything approaching a memorable performance. The writing veered between essays into lumpen symbolism (look, there’s Tony repeatedly washing his hands in a basin!) and seminars from the Clive Dunn academy of farce (oh no, Tony’s fallen out of bed – again!).

The direction, to an extent beholden to such an imbalanced narrative, see-sawed between episodes of subtle sentimentality and crude operatics. The viewer, faced with all of this, just about struggled to keep up with Lindsay’s seemingly infinite catalogue of contorted facial expressions.

The points the writer Alistair Beaton appeared to be making about the life and work of Tony Blair were many in number and all contradictory. This wouldn’t have been an issue were the points in and of themselves sufficiently persuasive or robust; instead Beaton’s scattergun tactics amounted to an assault high on quantity but low in quality.

There simply wasn’t the time or space for the viewer to find a coherent way to respond to all the pot shots. Not that there might have been much within Beaton’s script that passed for coherence; perhaps wisely for his sake the pace didn’t let up long enough for the audience to really find out.

There was also a nagging feeling here that everyone involved in the production was treating its premise as justification enough. In other words, that the mere notion of doing a drama called The Trial of Tony Blair would somehow see them through 90 minutes of airtime. After all, with as incendiary a title as that, an audience would be bound to want to see how it ends – wouldn’t they?

Well, the fact we didn’t actually get to see any of the titular prosecution can’t have left many thinking it was worth sticking with all the way through. In this sense the title was a complete bluff, somewhat akin to making a drama called The Assassination Of JFK then failing to include anything about Kennedy’s shooting. A hypothetical staging of Blair being cross-examined in a war crimes tribunal would’ve made for far more absorbing viewing, besides offering the chance for a bit more sustained and lucid polemic.

The absence of any trace of the eponymous trial was the last, and greatest, miscalculation. It left you feeling desperately short-changed, even duped. At a push you could have been so inclined to tolerate all the cheap gags and pratfalls and poor impersonations of Gordon Brown and David Cameron and bludgeoning metaphors (oops, there goes another war child running through Tony’s kitchen) for the chance of a glimpse of Blair in the dock. Then again, such an eventuality would have needed a production team of another level of aspiration altogether.

Instead we were left with the sight of Michael Murray being escorted into the back of a prison van to the strains of “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers (one of David Cameron’s Desert Island Discs), still wondering why he couldn’t ever be a good man. And thanks to this simplistic, clunking piece of television, we, the viewers, still had no idea either.


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