Sunday, July 18, 2010

TV Review: The Silence BBC1 Monday 12th July-Thursday 15 July 2010

I'd wanted to review the recent BBC drama 'The Silence' quickly. However, thanks to a temperamental work-based computer defying my efforts to write a review at 8.30am on Friday, I'm now having to complete this review on Sunday.

Nevermind. My thoughts are still fresh.

It's a shame that, at the moment at least, there are no plans to release the 4 part story on DVD. I'd certainly watch it again - and not just for lovely Douglas Henshall's delicious Scottish accent and visual appeal.

Interestingly, I'd say the key highlight was the performance and depiction of the central character: not Henshall's furiously angry and harrassed policeman Jim, but rather Genevieve Barr as his niece Amelia.

Amelia is caught between the hearing world (she has recently had a cochlear implant) and her more familiar world of silence, and credit must go to everyone concerned for making her such a rounded character. The use of sound, and silence, and all the guff of noise in-between, was beautifully conveyed. More importantly, not all the behaviour Amelia expresses was (just) about her being deaf. When she yells at her mother (Gina McKee) that "You're the problem!" it's done because Amelia is a teenager, with all the furious righteous indignation that virtually all teenagers express. Amelia smokes, drinks and flirts, likes clubbing (getting high off the speaker vibrations). She's certainly up there fighting out top spot as this year's best Amelia.

Though the series maintained a fairly consistent audience (4.7 million to start, 4.3 million on the finale) reviews have been erratic, and I can understand why. The Radio Times - in a fierce burst of independence from praising BBC programming - absolutely hated it, finding it slow and dull. However, Cloud and I remained gripped across the week - indeed positively giddy about the episodes as the story unfolded (a nice bonus for me which meant I didn't have to feel bad about indulgently watching Henshall). Even so, I can see how the positively insane level of coincidences upon which the frontline narrative depended would have turned off many potential viewers. As Euan Ferguson in today's Observer points out, the frontline 'plot' - Amelia sees the murder of a cop and can identify those responsible - isn't especially great. The bad guys come with signs on their faces saying 'bad guys' (the clue is in the facial hair) whilst the good guy (her uncle Jim) is suitably angst-ridden and anxious. But the delight was in the detail.
"Jim juggled brilliantly, got more right than wrong, yet everyone at one stage hated him. Par for the course in the average week for every fortysomething Scot. Henshall was just the very dabs here, always perfect and often magnificent: he looked so tired, and nearly-bearded, by the end of this successive four-night run, it was as if he'd stayed up all nights in between, waiting for us to return.

Which we did. Not for the plot, not even for Henshall, but for Amelia. Genevieve Barr's quite absurdly enthralling portrayal made this entire week's viewing. Forget the "real" plot: the story here, all four nights, was of the drama playing inside deaf Amelia's head: whether she "accepted" deafness, used her lip-reading skills and got the hell on with it, or persevered with the cochlear implant, and the bizarre terrors of learning – while not a baby, in the innocent and correct days when we can – of learning suddenly to hear, and make sense of it. She had done so much growing up and then, hearing, had to do it all again. The intrusiveness, the pomposity, the meanness, the tensions, the game-playing, of words, and shouts, and implications. Her character, Amelia, often preferred the thump of the bass in nightclubs, the tinglings and tremors, to the actual music, and chose to go back to deaf. When people argued around her, stupid go-nowhere arguments, she tugged out the implant's ugly grey antenna. "It felt like having a dirty room inside my head." She needed to escape. I know exactly how she feels.

Genevieve the actress – honestly, she was fabulous, wise, difficult, mesmerising, in 10 years' time I'll be able to have her as a pin-up beside Joey Lucas from The West Wing, if I was going to have a wall of pics of clever deaf actresses, which would be only a little worrying – has said: "When I was 16, the boy I was going out with said to me, 'Stop staring at boys' lips, it makes you look like you want to kiss them.'"

If there was anything else that was open to criticism, it was also the ending - which was, shall we generously say - oblique. Check out the debate on CiF at the Guardian which followed up a deaf writer's comments on the first episode with a series of comments about how the narrative progressed. Personally, there was something to be said for a 'less-than-neatly-tied-up' ending with the bad guys being dragged off for punishment, but this was perhaps more disturbingly inconclusive. I'd possibly forgive them for it if I knew there was a follow-up...

Anyway, for those wanting to know more about Genevieve Barr, there is a nice piece Barr wrote for the BBC about making the transition from teacher to actress.

Other reviews:
The Arts Desk
The Herald

1 comment:

chrissie_allen said...

Nice post. Eve is still miffed at me for not watching it yet. Stored on my box though, so I will get to it! ;-)