Hatton Garden was not, thanks be to all the graces, ’Atton Gaaard’n. Finally, almost 50 years after the Pythons lampooned the tendency in their Piranha Brothers sketch, we would appear to have shed any romantic tosh about London gangsters being anything other than on a stunted, unlovely spectrum between backbiting weasels and violent scum.
It has taken, frankly, absurdly too long. We’ve had to undergo decades of the likes of the Krays and the Richardsons being hailed inexplicably as working-class heroes, diamond geezers who “laaved” their ol’ mum (rather than, say, squalid psychopaths). We’ve so far had to suffer no fewer than three films “celebrating”, all appallingly (one appallingly with Michael Caine), the £14m haul squirrelled out of Clerkenwell during the four-day Easter weekend of 2015. But, still, 50 bloody years. Yet finally, ITV and writer-executive producer Jeff Pope and a supreme little cast got to tell it as it really was.
Tellingly, these four nights never saw the gang celebrating, in any sense. Instead, we got to practically inhale the halitosis from six ageing bodies in a van, bathe in the liniment and Germolene wafting off them in the safety-deposit vault, hear the peppery backs creaking and the vinegary pissing, see the sheer unloveliness of these old lags’ lack of friendship. This was superb, telling a rat’s tail of a tale over four engrossing nights, in which the police came off (eventually) well, the press with expected dishonour. The criminals, their undoubted hard graft and luck undercut at the last by a toxic mix of personal bitterness, stupidity and greed, are meanwhile dying in prison. We were left instead with the quiet memory that this was far from a “victimless” crime – nicely underplayed scenes by Nasser Memarzia, as uninsured safe-box victim Gooran Cyrus, broke your heart. Turns out, too, that they weren’t that nice a bunch of cheeky villains: some had nice records of dousing underpaid security guards in petrol. Just goes to show what clever, truthful writing can do when coupled with searing yet unsentimental performances. (Half the main cast, incidentally – Kenneth Cranham, David Hayman, Alex Norton – are Scottish. Kingpin Cranham and, of course, Timothy Spall were spittingly wonderful throughout.) Perhaps now the ghost can be laid on the grave of the plucky cockney villain, and all the ribaldly saccharine black-plumed horses simply be freed of the joke headwear, and set loose in fresh grass.
I was wary when I encountered Summer of Rockets on my schedule, simply because I saw the word “Poliakoff”. Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff has been rightly acclaimed down the years, but has also recently given us a couple of stinkers televisually (though never visually): Close to the Enemy was cursed by an improbable lead, while Dancing on the Edge never quite got going. But – hurrah! and phew – SoR is, so far, a genuine triumph.
Perhaps because it’s not utter fiction but based on his own Russian immigrant father, it clings, intrigues, haunts, delights. Toby Stephens puts in a powerhouse of a performance as the lightly fictionalised Samuel Petrukhin, bespoke hearing-aid manufacturer to the likes of Churchill, who would go on to basically invent the pager. Petrukhin is a charming, direct, bluff, uppity entree to 1958, with all that entails. His Jewishness; his determination for his deb daughter to “come out”; his black colleague, whom he seems set on treating on equal terms, damn him; his success – all are anathema to the England of Goodwood and garden fetes, the last debs’ delight before the Queen and itch-fusty London clubs; and, globally, misplaced H-bombs, the space race and the cold war. The settings are fascinating, or perhaps you’re always overly fascinated by the decade before you were born, but I also loved the story and cast: Stephens, Keeley Hawes, Gary Beadle, Timothy Spall again, Mark Bonnar soon.
The last six minutes of this first episode, in which Petrukhin’s lovely free spirit of a daughter (Lily Sacofsky) breaks a heel on the way to her achingly reluctant “coming out” to the Queen, possess, bizarrely, all the tension of the most crucial six minutes in Bodyguard. And Samuel has made an accidental friend in Hawes’s Kathleen Shaw, wife to a quietly PTSD’d Tory MP, and will be asked to spy on both by MI5. Utterly intriguing, can’t wait. And perfectly period-shot: Hawes at one stage has to take the podium for her absent husband before the flag-draped Addley Conservative Association, and open mouths gape as if a cormorant has somehow sidled up and grabbed the mike.
Twenty-one short years later, a woman was grabbing the mic before the national Conservative conference, to polite and respectful applause. A few months later she was grabbing the mic before the nation, as PM, to unrestrained, in some places, adulation. Thatcher: A Very British Revolution is an (ongoing) tale, marvellously told and truly historically insightful. I hadn’t realised Michael Heseltine was quite such a queeny old bitch, nor the import of a kingmaker called Gordon Reece. If you’ve spent the past decades either celebrating Margaret Thatcher or reviling her, for everything supplanted or revoked or innovated under her undoubted revolution, you might think you know it all: you don’t.
The much-heralded Gentleman Jack, with Suranne Jones and written by the grand Sally Wainwright, comes, I suspect, too heralded. It’s good, never get me wrong, and the tale of lesbian landowner/explorer/medical pioneer/all-round good gal Anne Lister is one told and played with immense spirit, but until it properly gets going, with the secret diaries and the grit, I suspect the BBC publicity machine has overplayed its hot little hand. At the moment it’s just Poldark with girl-kisses.
Loved the end of Game of Thrones. Stately slow, immense, roughly silent, which is everything it should have been, while wrapping with wit, lack of urgency, cadences worthy of Chopin’s preludes. Strikes me that most of the best survived. That split-second vision of Daenerys with horned wings as her Drogon rose behind, the perfection of the dropped Wall gate echoing the very first episode of the very first series … all was pretty much perfect. The best are set on follow-up journeys – Arya’s westward-ho is surely ripe for a 26-parter somewhere, though HBO has already stressed no sequels (only prequels) – and, to all the hundreds of thousands online who want an entire rewrite of the entire last series, you do know this is something “fictional” on “television”, yes?