Television Roger Lewis
Witness for the Prosecution was faultless, except in one respect: the story by Agatha Christie. It strained credulity in the Billy Wilder film, when Charles Laughton failed to recognise Marlene Dietrich in her gypsy disguise, so it was particularly daft in the new production, when perspicacious lawyer Toby Jones was taken in by Andrea Riseborough, who in the crucial plot twist was hanging
about in Limehouse with a prosthetic facial disfigurement. Nothing can mask Andrea’s massive eyelids, which are like silver tureens.
That clumsy episode aside, the programme shimmered with eroticism and horror – who will forget that white cat padding through the pool of blood and licking its paws? Monica Dolan, who is always good at mad unpleasantness, was on top form as the lesbian maid, quivering with emotion. If I much prefer these recent shows to the boring and complacent Poirots and Marples, it is because they are bringing out the sexual undercurrents.
If only Peter Cook and Dudley
Moore’s Missing Sketches had remained missing. Was it ‘cultural vandalism’ when the tapes were wiped? Or a kindness? The surviving material does the comedians’ reputation a disservice – smudgy monochrome images, ill-rehearsed sketches with fluffed lines retained, wooden acting. Peter Cook was always an awkward, glazed presence on the screen, and the way he obviously thought working-class characters were inherently funny, because stupid and monotonous, is offensive, frankly. Despite the chortling commentary from Rob Brydon and interjections from Barry Humphries, the only thing to tickle the funny bone was Dudley’s corpsing.
Cook and Moore’s scripts have all been published – and in fairness they do read brilliantly, the Dagenham dialogues having the tone of poetry. Cook was a writer not an actor or personality, and it is his Beyond The Fringe co-star Alan Bennett, now a youthful-looking octogenarian, who has managed to succeed in all categories. Bennett’s modest and humble shy-seeming performance is worthy of a Golden Globe, and there it was in full flight in
Alan Bennett’s Diaries. This charming documentary quite reflected the rhythms of the man, as he bumbled about Yorkshire and Camden, pottered around literary festivals and conquered New York with his dramas. When he croaks, there will only be one big black mark against his name, imperilling his heavenly seat – the part The History
Boys has played in the rise of James Corden.
Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are to be commended for their fascination with those campy cut-price Seventies shockers, such as
Tales of the Unexpected. Their Inside No 9 episode ‘The Devil of Christmas’ faithfully recreated the period’s duff camera style, the blurry flat video lighting, wobbly orange colours, continuity errors and mini-fluffs with spoken dialogue. Wearing muffs, Rula Lenska and Jessica Raine strutted around the set – an Austrian ski lodge – as if it was the legendary Crossroads Motel. Derek Jacobi was the director giving us his voiceover commentary – until it transpired at the finish that he was giving a police interview. What we had been watching was a ‘snuff’ movie and Raine had been chained to the bed and slaughtered.
Another League of Gentlemen graduate, Mark Gatiss, is the co-creator of the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock, and the fourth series was absolutely terrible. Lots of rushing about and shouting – momentum that didn’t go anywhere. Hallucinations and bouts of lunacy, drug-induced nightmares and credulity stretched from here to Finland. People came back from beyond the grave, sci-fi fashion, or had only pretended to be dead, as in Agatha Christie. Yet in the midst of the delirium, Martin Freeman did his best to give a true performance of a man
suffering from intense grief. Perhaps he was in mourning for the script ? Toby Jones, who now has to be in everything, gave the super-villain Sir Jimmy Savile’s filthy crooked teeth and Sir Cyril Smith’s Rochdale accent.
To play Maigret, Rowan Atkinson has tried so hard to rid himself of Mr Bean and Blackadder, there’s nothing left – a blank rigidity. He’s also too thin and ascetic for Maigret. You need a cylindrical, shambling figure, like Timothy Spall. Or me.
Dudley Moore and Peter Cook: sometimes they were no laughing matter