Bernard Mac Laverty’s Sometime In August previewed (below).


More than skin deep

Tom Lappin on a Screen Two adaptation of Bernard Mac Laverty's short story about a shy boy who wants to keep his shirt on.

The tired rites ofpassage storyline has become increasingly popular with film producers and TV dramatists of late. from My Life As A Dog to Orange Hill. You know the sort of thing: young bov on the brink of manhood struggles to come to terms with the adult world. his awakening sexuality. peer pressures and the rest. Unfortunately. too often it serves merely as an excuse to indulge in an overdose ofcloying sentimentality. and romanticist views of childhood.

A new BBC2 Screen Two film. Sometime In August. made by BBC Scotland. is a welcome exception. Written by Bernard Mac Laverty (best known as the writer of the successfully filmed books (‘al and Lamb) it tackles the subject in a gentle. even understated. way. revealing in the process a closer understanding of the real preoccupations of 13 year-old boys.

The film's central character is Neil Fry. a working-class Edinburgh scholarship pupil suffering from psoriasis. who spends August on holiday in Galloway with a schoolfriend. Michael. Neil is embarrassed by his disease. and refuses to remove his shirt to swim. This is awkward enough but is made worse by the teasing presence of Michael‘s elder sister Anne.

Don't be deceived by the psoriasis. this is no juvenile version ofThe Singing Detective; what Mac Laverty is concerned to show is Neil‘s gradual realisation that his self-consciousness is

causing as much suffering as the disease itself.

‘I remember a boy at my school who was too embarrassed to take his shirt off because of a skin rash.‘ says Mac Laverty. ‘That was thirty or so years ago. and a lot ofthings were different. But that embarrassment is still the same today.’ Neil‘s self-consciousness is always nagging away but never turns into anything too overwrought. Mac Laverty does not want to disturb the gentleness of the piece, preferring to elicit humour from the situation. ‘We wanted it to be quite low-key. That way. it makes the characters seem more believable.‘

The realistic characterisation of the film is one of its strong points. The dialogue between the two boys has an easy naturalism and a convincing scatological bent. Neil‘s interest in Anne is never allowed to develop beyond awkward curiosity and resultant ribbing from his friend. Mac Laverty gives much of the credit to the two young actors. Craig Lorimer who plays Neil, and Paul Witherspoon as Michael, both making their screen debuts. ‘They were perfect in the parts,‘ says the writer. ‘Once I'd seen them I couldn‘t imagine the characters as anyone else.‘

The film was based on a short story More Than Just The Disease taken from Mac Laverty‘s most recent collection The Great Profundo And Other Stories with some slight changes for the screen

version. ‘There are always differences when you transfer something on to screen. Neil's mother doesn‘t really appear in the short story whereas she’s quite important in the film. But that doesn‘t Change the balance of the story in any way.‘

Several questions are left unanswered in the film, including what happened to Neil’s father. Some ofthe characters are intriguing enough to merit further development but it is not something Mac Laverty would consider. ‘Thcre are things that aren‘t fully developed.‘ he admits. ‘but that‘s inevitable. The story is a complete thing as it stands, it‘s no good being drawn away from the main story by all sorts ofsubplots.‘

Sometime In August has been the victim of a BBC2 scheduling pile-up. having been made in 1988. (It was the last TV performance by Mary Morris who played the enigmatic Mrs Wan: she died in October 1988.) In the meantime Mac Laverty has been working on another television adaptation ofone ofhis short stories. this time for BBC Northern Ireland. The prospect of another Mac Laverty feature film is not quite so likely. it seems. ‘l've got something ready for a film, but like everybody else at the moment. I just can‘t get the money together.‘ (Tom Lappin)

Sometime In August: 88( '2 25 February 10.10—11.20pm.

South Bank Bairns

Sometimes television does it better. Take The South Bank Show's programme on Communicado's Jock Tamson’s Bairns. It was, admittedly, not one at Melvyn's Angels“ best eilorts: the soft shots at the Kingston ‘Bridge, the panning views at Culture City, and the embarrassing archive iootage llannelled the iact this was an hour at cheapo TV. What it did, however, was explain better than the countless cotton wool previews in the

72 The List 23 February— 8 March 1990

press, and perhaps the show itself, what director Gerry Mulgrew and writer Liz Lochhead were up to.

Nothing I read priorto the programme prepared me ior Mulgrew's loquacity, his virulent stubble and lace-iramlng specs. Never beiore has the gult between perpetrators and participants been so graphically illustrated. The company did indeed seem like Golding's shipwrecked Flies, unruly, ignorant, primitive children at the Jago, desperately seeking help. Mulgrew, ietching in designer semmit, halt-mast pants and leather bootees, knew what he wanted, but getting it across was another matter. ‘l’ve said it

beiore and HI keep saying lt,‘ he said, more or less. ‘What do you mean?’ asked an agitated thespian. isympathised. This, then, was no Jonathan Miller masterclass. Could anything come at this mess? one began to wonder. The impression was that The South Bank Show's remit was the anatomy at a ilop. But the reviews spiked that. Gradually, trorn the chaos came the glimmer at a structure, though it was clear that it was travelling in Mulgrew's direction rather than Lochhead's. This was odd because when you could take your eyes ott her baubles she explained cogently what she thought Jock Tamson’s Balrns

was about, likening the Bairns to

Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon who

simply are what they are and are

accepted as such, sans question. It was

about aborting cliches, nationhood,

cultural and political impotence, the

I history at stereotypes,

sell-aggrandlsement and insecurity.

And in the dock stood a wee man with

tears in his eyes crying for his mammy

and punishing the bottle. The Scottish

male got it in the neck again: why does

no one ask why he is what he is? Isn’t it

time to indict those suiky sullen dames

who drove poor Tam to drink, those paragons oi the pinny, the Scottish

i temale? (Larry O’Brien)