A trib­ute to the or­di­nary and ex­tra­or­di­nary man be­hind TV’S best mob boss

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - YOUR TV WEEK -

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?

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