Friday, 15 July 2011

The Night Watch: BBC2 drama (spoilers)

Based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters, finding this one off  drama was a happy accident as I perused iplayer for something decent to watch. I say ‘happy’ but actually, there’s nothing I like more than getting a bit cry baby watching something and this does have its moments.

Starting in 1947, this film has an interesting structure as it tells the stories of the four main characters, Kay, Viv, Duncan and Helen backwards, straying from the more traditional flashback methods. It works brilliantly especially as it ends with the line;

‘’Someone once said, a happy ending depends on where you decide to stop your story, then again, it could be when you realise your story is not yet over, then you are only at the end of the beginning.‘’

The immediate riddle of these four stories is why is Kay so unhappy and walking the streets of 1940’s London (grimly and wonderfully shot in my opinion) dressed androgynously and clearly too modern for her peers going by the reactions she gets. 

For me she is the most interesting character, the most in control of her emotions yet not and if there is one disappointment with this drama, it is that it’s a one off and probably could have been fleshed out into three parts.

So back to my point, the film starts in 1947, the end and the beginning and it continues to play around with the whole concept of time and question whether there are, if any, defining points other than what we make of them. Kay is traumatised, Viv is having an unsatisfactory affair, Duncan is living with a much older man and Helen is in a relationship with a vampish lady who clearly has some connection to Kay going by the quick flash to Julia’s new book in the newspaper. Four people that have survived a war externally but internally all seem to be fighting.


The second part to the riddles of these characters is Viv’s wedding finger ring and its connection to Kay who she sees walking the street. Why is she so desperate to find her and thank her?  Clever unravelling ensues as the four stories rewind and travel backwards and the threads of connection start to show especially with the teaser of tormented pasts within the relationship of Helen and Julia. 

 The time travelling elements to the stories were shown with a rewind button too,  it quite took me by surprise the first time, speeded up and after Duncan has been cleaning a clock dial, and Kay walks towards her old ambulance door, via an alleyway (yes, a bit Goodnight Sweetheart which due to the novel being rushed into 90 minutes, did give it that sitcom element of speed at times). However, this is soon overtaken with the harsh reality of the Blitz, the footage we all know of rubble never had the remains of children and mothers mixed in, but when thinking about it, of course it did.

Kay’s connection to Julia is revealed, as is the harsh reality, again, of a woman having an affair in these times; cut to early pregnancy vomiting, home made attempts at getting rid of the ‘inconvenience’ i.e. throwing yourself down the stairs (in footie match slow motion dive replay) and knitting needles. It all ends with the brutality of illegal back street abortion, via your dentist (yes I’m going to be looking at those instruments in a new and terrifying light from now on).

Not to make light of a serious issue, the film subtly hints at the horrors of the time for women as well as the political leaning of how to push women’s role; it’s a war so they can wear trousers and be brave, once it’s all over, they will urged to put the apron back on (50’s housewives).

The outcome of this abortion are predictably awful and shows us why the young Viv is so grateful to Kay and her snake ring, worn to imitate a wedding band for a young woman who has committed a crime. Stressed yet? Yes I was too especially as Reggie the offender ran off in Viv’s hour of need as she hemorrhaged all over a hotel room.

1944 was proving the year of trauma for them all, other than Duncan who is languishing in the Scrubs with his fine friend Robert Fraser at this point, crying and masturbation scenes afoot.  His trauma is 1941 where we land shortly…after Kay has thought Helen dead but then realised she’s been having a sneaky snog with the vamp Julia.

Quick time travel to 1941, which clears up Kay and Helen’s first meeting, confirms her relationship with the now needy Julia and tells Duncan’s story of assisted suicide, too rushed really.  I didn’t connect with him much at all or even feel a bit sorry for him when he realised his sister had bagged his beau from prison, I was too happy for Viv getting out of the affair with the spineless charmer.

So back to my previous point, brilliant but too condensed. Favourite character has to be the turmoil of Kay, a stand alone story of its own. It seemed Viv got the happy ending; the queers only had a hint of one, if you decide where the story ends that is? 

Sarah Waters of ‘Tipping the Velvet’ and ‘Fingersmith’ fame, yes she’s naughty isn’t she? But also brilliant, let’s have more lesbians with a story and not for titillation in the mainstream. Well done Beeb. Now I'm off to buy the book.


Author Sarah Waters
Kay Langrish Anna Maxwell-Martin
Helen Giniver Claire Foy
Vivian Pearce Jodie Whittaker
Julia Standing Anna Wilson-Jones
Duncan Pearce Harry Treadaway
Robert Fraser JJ Feild
Reggie Nigri Liam Garrigan
Nancy Carmichael Claudie Blakley
Horace Mundy Kenneth Cranham
Director Richard Laxton
Producer Ann Tricklebank
Writer Paula Milne
Jump here to watch, only four days left now. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review and agree that this would have worked as a three part drama. It was full of some really rather good performances :) x