TIM FANNING MY VIEW
A tribute to the ordinary and extraordinary man behind TV’S best mob boss
he struggle between good and evil is what drives any decent drama. And the most interesting conflicts are those that take place inside a character. That’s what made the late, great James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano so compelling to watch. Despite the brutality, the infidelity, the gluttony, the violent rages, there was always that vulnerability about the New Jersey actor’s portrayal of the mob boss that made you feel a little sorry for him. And then, like a thundercloud on a fine summer’s day, the expression on his face would morph into a grotesque mask of such hatred that we, the viewers, would wonder how we could have felt an ounce of pity for this monster.
Despite the fact that The Sopranos traded in sex and violence, Tony is a moral creature, who has a black-and-white view of the world. Cheating on your wife is fine; your daughter dating someone ethnically suspicious is not fine. So much of what Gandolfini gave to the role must have come from his own ItalianAmerican upbringing in New Jersey. Naples, where Gandolfini’s mother, Santa, grew up, is one of the most welcoming places in the world. Yet every visitor to that city will feel the crackling tension in the air, of a people on the make, because they have to survive.
That’s what Gandolfini brought to the role of Tony, a lust for life that is so typical of the south of Italy, a disregard for conventional morality and authority, and, above all, an easy charm that shone from somewhere a lot deeper within than the slicker, pearly-white grin purveyed by Hollywood’s stock crop of leading men and ladies. Viewers, especially men, empathised with Tony because this lust for life often made him do bad things.
The beauty of The Sopranos was the very ordinariness of this middle-aged man. Tony wasn’t that far removed from Fred Flintstone (and his ideas about how a family should be run were from about the same era). So often when we watch American drama, there is an actorly ordinariness that is far removed from what we know to be the reality. You felt that Gandolfini – like many of those from humble backgrounds who make it in the business – was suspicious of the ac- as anything other than a regular guy who just happened to be making a living on stage or screen. This warm-hearted family drama about a close-knit clan living in Derbyshire in England proved so popular with Sky viewers that it’s back for a second series. Lesley Sharp and Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle (above) return as Jan and Terry. Their eldest, Bell, is living with boyfriend Reuben and their baby; Graham (Gravy) is unemployed and occupying himself treasure-hunting; and Charlotte (Charlie) is working with Terry – until an accident on a building site makes her reconsider her future. While Reuben is roping in the hapless Fergie and Loz (played by series co-creators Steve Edge and Matt King) to help on a big project, Jan is on a creative writing course – and there’s a spark between her and her tutor (played by Vincent Regan). Could trouble be brewing?