Simply Marvellous Herr Issyvoo…
Oh how times have changed with ‘The Doctor’ being allowed time off to do some rather naughty but nice drama. I was quite excited to see how they would pull this off having read Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ quite a while ago.
Based on Isherwood's semi autobiographical novel, it opens with the man himself played by Matt Smith in 1976 sounding even more the ‘gentleman’ than ever, tip tapping away at a typewriter, aged hands and words of wisdom, it quickly flashes back to the 1930’s and Christopher’s bid to escape the domineering and emotional blackmailing 'mummy' (Lindsay Duncan). On her damning words when he says he’s going to Berlin, she clips harshly;
‘You won’t forget, will you darling, that the Germans killed your father’. Camera shot straight to the framed and fierce looking Colonel Frank Isherwood and Christopher’s look of cold disregard.
He leaves mummy with his ‘runtish’ brother, Richard, who twitches nervously around the matriarch trying to get some recognition against the obvious favourite ‘Christopher’ after begging his sibling to ‘take me with you’. Next shot is super dapper Isherwood being the focus of the rather ‘screaming queer’ Gerald Hamilton on a rather beautiful steam train, toot toot, love beeb 2 for these details.
The drama shakes a bit at this point with some silly innuendo between Christopher and Gerald. In the next scene, ‘The Cosy Corner’, the first sight WH Auden, the poet (Pip Carter) takes Isherwood the ‘raring to taste sexual liberation’ to see, is a brothel. It’s not liberation, its pretty boys selling themselves to men to give them money to pay for ‘cunt,’ the raving heteros! This is where the so far naive Isherwood meets the 'femme-ish fatale' Casper, one minute in his bed, buying him bracelets, standing him up and finally the cruel reality, donning an SS Uniform and trying to block Christopher from entering a Jewish store to buy socks, how frightfully British Herr Issyvoo.
Amongst all the Soft Cell music video shots and Harry Potter steam train scenery, enters the beautiful upper-class waif Jean Ross, (Imogen Poots) damaged by men, bad bad men and singing maudlin songs in a bar in Berlin trying to ensnare any possibility of a glamorous career in Hollywood.
Wildly outrageous and uncaring of opinion, she takes lovers, she drinks, she smokes while all the time she wears green nail varnish to symbolise her political leanings to communism? The inevitable happens and she resorts to a back street abortion and vanishes albeit until a brief reconciliation back in London some years later when she is giving out The Daily Worker in Knightsbridge; so easy to be militant when you’re middle class. During all this the poor Wystan Auden is pining, ‘a little bit in love’ with the roguish toff Isherwood.
Gerald Hamilton leaves in a cloud of controversy, highlighting the plight of a gay man of this time as criminal and having to keep on the ‘run’ leaving Isherwood falling fast for road sweeper ‘Heinz’ and the growing threat of the Nazis.
More raids, more swastikas, the recruits being everywhere; Isherwood’s rent boy and seemingly Heinz ( played by the actor that pulled off Boy George recently, Douglas Booth ) brother Gerhardt being part of the ‘night school Gestapo’.
This story as does the book ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ shows the problems faced by a society changing from the more liberal Weimar Germany when Berlin was ‘the place to go if you were a bit quirky’ to a place under siege from the Nazis, anti culturists (hence the burning books and art work) who wanted to rid the country of any perceived flaw whether it be race, sexuality or hindrance to the government.
Isherwood’s political resistance seems lame, highlighted by his Jewish English pupil, the shopkeeper, yet his ‘cause’ is gay liberation, highlighted by his failed attempt to get Heinz out of Nazi Germany and his return to Berlin some years later to find him married to Hilde ‘who turns a blind eye’ and his son named after Isherwood himself (plus a very funny moustache, come on props, you could have done better than that to age the boy Heinz) and his refusal to play along with the pretence as most gay men would have done at this time.
Bodice ripping, no correction, trouser ripping romp with some moving scenes and the impeccable Matt Smith, and yes he has a watch, a very important watch in this too…brilliant!
And as always, BBC2 throw up some credits and intriguing carry on the story bits which sometimes makes you wonder if they missed out the best part…Isherwood’s younger brother shared a bed with 'mummy' in her last days and woke to find her dead beside him? What? Perhaps that’s more Channel 4 though? Isherwood never went to her funeral.
Good drama so now go read some Isherwood.