Patrick Hamilton’s stunning trilogy beautifully rendered
I completely missed this at the time of transmission, possibly because at the time I was unaware of the trilogy of which it was based. And in many ways I am very glad of that, as I do prefer to have read the book on which a film or TV dramatisation has been made, as going to the book afterwards seems to get in the way of my own experience of the original.
Of course the danger of this approach might be the purist reader is forever nitpicking about how badly the book has been served and doesn’t do it justice.
Happily, this is not the case here, and in the main there has been not only a faithfulness to the book, but something added by performance and by the wonderful visual element showing the minutiae of a vanished time
Patrick Hamilton’s book, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky was originally 3 interlocking books, published over a period of some 5 years, centring around a Fitzrovia pub, The Midnight Bell, in the late 1920s, and telling, from 3 different viewpoints, stories of hopeless love, broken dreams and the aspirations and hardships of ‘little people’, the ordinary lives of those without the benefits of money and education, but with the desire for something better, somewhere……
Bob is the barman at The Midnight Bell self-educating himself, wanting to be a writer. Pretty Jenny, from a very poor background, is initially proud to get a live-in job as a housekeeper and cook to 3 elderly people of means. Warm-hearted, homely Ella is the barmaid at The Midnight Bell. Bob loves ruinous Jenny, who loves no-one, though Bob in turn is beloved by Ella. It’s a kind of much more sparkling, much more witty, much more emotionally, less didactic Huis Clos.
Simon Curtis is a director of fine pedigree from stage, where his credits include the original production of Jim Cartwright’s Road, TV – credits include BBC’s Cranford and film – My Week With Marilyn.
Kevin Elyot was a fine writer (My Night With Reg) – and wisely here uses much of Hamilton’s sparkling, precise dialogue, lifted from the trilogy, and does not seek to impose his own voice. He prunes, shapes and guides, trusting in the source material.
All performances are assured, Bryan Dick as sweet, charming Bob, far too susceptible to the twin delights of a pretty ankle and the alcohol he serves, Zoe Tapper as ravishingly pretty, dramatically damaged Jenny, and, especially Phil Davis, always worth watching, here, more dapper, less outwardly seedy than his usual casting, but still definitely a bit creepy, as Ernest Eccles, erstwhile admirer of the stand-out, heart-breakingly must-stay-upbeat Ella, beautifully played by Sally Hawkins
The last section of the piece, Ella’s story, The Plains of Cement, as in the book itself, is the one which best manages the balance between humour, pathos and a kind of anxious terror. Davis’ horribly lonely Eccles is both repulsive and inviting of pity, and the scenes between him and Hawkins’ overwhelmed, not quite sure what is going on Ella are both funny and creepy, and I found myself with anxiously thumping heart resonating with Ella’s troubled confusion, bewildered by it all.
The structure of the 3 stories is beautifully woven together. If I have one minor criticism, it is that the end of the piece half suggests a sense of missed opportunity for Bob, which is not suggested for him, in Hamilton’s book – it may well be the reader’s, and indeed, the viewer’s perception, but it is not something which is made part of Bob’s perception.
The DVD has been uploaded in entirety (in small sections) to You Tube, I thought it was worth getting to play as a seamless whole in good definition, but at least the You Tube gives a sneak preview and allows you to make your choice!