Saturday, 6 August 2011

Review - Shooting the Past (1999 - Dir. Stephen Poliakoff)

Now, I know this isn't strictly a film. Well, okay, it's not a film at all. It's a slice of television drama from the late 90s, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. This was the first thing I'd seen by him and I watched it almost by accident. I was hooked from the very first minutes and ended up watching all three parts. It is very filmic at times and through the delights of this new fangled DVD technology, you can watch it too.

Shooting the Past centres on a sprawling photo collection, managed by Marilyn Truman (Lindsay Duncan), that is about to be closed and either split up or destroyed. Along with Oswald Bates (Timothy Spall) and some other English eccentrics, Marilyn tries to save the collection from Christopher Anderson (Liam Cunningham) and his American Business School.

As with Poliakoff's other work, it doesn't go exactly as you would think. Nothing is ever that simple in his dramas. The characters are complex and you can see why actors like working with him. There is a distinct style to the dialogue; once you get into it you can recognise a Poliakoff drama from a mile off. All of the cast are spot on, but as always, Timothy Spall shines; funny and touching in equal measures. The music by Adrian Johnston also adds to the Poliakoff style and this is probably Johnston's best work.

It has a much slower pace than most dramas. Intentionally so. You are drawn in gradually and by the time a World War II story is told though a series of photographs, I would be surprised if anyone could stop watching. Liam Cunningham's character says exactly what you are thinking: that you know what is coming next. You don't. It is a very moving story and effectively told through mostly still images. This use of photos to tell stories also carries through into his later work, Perfect Strangers. 

The only downsides are the second part where not as much happens, but even that is being picky, and there's something else, that you might not notice. If you don't, all well and good; I'm not going to spoil it for you. If you do notice the other problem, you will be slightly taken out of the story. I was still gripped, though. Well worth having a look at, and if you like it, he's done loads of other good stuff too.

If you like this you could also try: 
Glorious 39, Perfect Strangers, Joe's Palace, Friends and Crocodiles.

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