No compromise

‘There are certain things about her I don’t like at all. I don’t like her brutality, I don’t like her extreme selfishness. I don’t like her job, and I could never be involved in a profession like it.’

llelen Mirren’s attitude to her character .lane Tennison is somewhat . short on gratitude. Considering her role in Prime Suspect I and II has

garnered her best actress awards from E g the Broadcasting Press, BAFTA and the i f .

lioyal Television Society, as well as increasing her profile in the USA, where the second series won an Emmy, she could be a little bit more affectionate about the poor harassed BCI. 0h, hold on, Mirren does have a few good words to say for her: ‘She walks on men and uses them, which is g iust what men often do to women. I think women are just as capable of that as men I just reckon they do much more of it than they’ve so far confessed to.’

Keeping a tight rein on her predominantly male team, Tennison returns for a third stint of crime- busting in Prime Suspect lll,,although her desk has now moved to the Soho Vice Squad. Previous series have tackled issues like sexism and racism in the force, and this time around it’s homophobia, as the team investigate the murder of a teenage rent boy, whose body is found in the burnt-out flat of a local transvestite.

Writer lynda La Plante based the script on a real-life case she read about in a newspaper, concerning a persistent child molester. ller : research involved interviewing Vice I

Mirren also found the subject matter !

_ , Necessarily so

Vflllard White and Cynthia llaymon in Porgy And Bess

When is a musical not a musical?

When Is an opera not an opera? What

Bernstein’s West Side Story one and

wasn’t always held in such high regard, and it was only recently - and in the till - that its status was elevated to that of America’s greatest opera, due to the success of Trevor llunn’s 1986 Slyndebourne production More than a typical opera love

story, Porgy And Bess paints a vivid picture of a poverty-stricken Afro- American community that still resonates today.

In Bershwin’s mind, this was ‘folk opera’, where his use of syncopated )azz rhythms, blues and the negro

f l

. that it isn’t made up,’ she says. ‘Much of the content has been covered in TV . documentaries. We haven’t needed to ; exaggerate for the sake of drama.’

as any EastEnders viewer will testify,

potential pitfalls, but believes Prime

" Suspect Ill maintains a fine balance

between the entertaining and the

; enlightening. ‘l’m reluctant to go back to a situation where you either feel

you can do serious work with a tenth

? of our audience figure, or pander to

3 the lowest common denominator and

: make popular television that makes no demands on its audience. With Prime

; Suspect, I don’t believe we’ve ever

, compromised.’ (Tom Lappin)

. distinction, but, in context, the depth

, production was remounted at the

astronomical ticket prices are a way of life, and one of the world’s most

v accessible 0 eras was denied the

is the dividing line that makes Leonard E popula, audigm it “saves.

3llowee,i d'tlf George Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess the . v ' mm 'a c ya '9' the

other? In fact, Gershwin’s masterpiece

i llamon Evans at their finest) was

; moved to the largest stage at

' Shepperton Studios, where a visually expanded television version was

- , soundtrack. The result is one of those

j budget (over £2 million) production filmed not as a live theatre

BCI Tennison begins another murder enquiry shocking. ‘The really scary thing is

The danger with this sort of material,

is that the ‘issues’ can dominate the characters and make for dull viewing. Producer Paul Marcus is aware of the

Prime Suspect begins on Scottish on 19 December at 9pm.

spiritual would reflect all aspects of the race he was depicting - its heroism, naivety, tenderness and cruelty. Many of the work’s arias and duets - ‘Summertime’, ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, ‘I Got Plenty 0’ lluttin’ ’- have become hits in their own right, blurring the musical/opera

of Bershwin’s symphonic score and his

writing for the chorus place Porgy And

Bess firmly in the opera repertoire. last year, the Glyndeboume

lloyal Opera House, Covent Garden, again to great acclaim. But here,

London run, the cast (which includes Willard White, Cynthia llaymon and

recorded to the Battle/Philharmonic

rare TV treats for opera lovers: a big

performance, but with all the lushness and intimacy that a studio can offer.

1 (Alan Morrison)

g Porgy And Bess is on BBCZ on

) Chrisbnas Sunday at 6.05pm.


French leave

Half the BBC workforce are heading overseas for their festive specials. Spender, aka Jimmy Nail, has a better excuse than most, as Tom Lappin discovers.

Come Christmas (or given run-in schedules. around July) a BBC producer‘s mind turns to foreign clinics. Ever since that classic Only Fools And Horses Christmas feature- length job set in the Florida Everglades. a seasonal special just hasn‘t been worth the title unless it has involved a foreign jaunt. to shores as exotic as the funds will allow. The number of domestic favourites dusting off the passports this year is higher than ever. with every budget-splurging idea getting the green light. from Birds ()f/l Feather heading for Hollywood. through l.()l'('j()_\‘ indulging in some transatlantic skullduggery to Victor Meldrew honing his considerable whingeing talent on the Algarve.

The trouble is. with British comedy shows. their success often relies on their peculiarly fixed territories. their limited horizons and parochial attitudes. Meldrew is as much a product of quiet suburbia as Sharon and Trace are of part'enu C higwell. Take them out of their natural habitat. and the magic begins to pall.

‘I wanted to take him out of his natural environment, away from the police, his family, the

Newcastle criminal network.

In France, Spender has nothing - he’s out on a limb.’

The same could be said of Spender. Jimmy Nail's sublimer scabrous Geordie copper. The success of the three Spender series had a great deal to do with their Tyneside locale. a setting at once original and familiarly tough and strectwise. with plenty of sardonic wit. and a fair smattering of assorted villains and lowlife. Local colour flavoured the well-drawn characters. and you‘d be wary oftaking the hero out of his hometown.

That‘s just what they‘ve done though. in Spender: The French Collection. a feature-length special that could well turn out to be Spendcr‘s swansong. The plot features our hero heading for Marseilles in order to escort big time villain Tommy Thornton back to Blighty. an assignment that proves more than tough enough to fill out the extra episode time. Jimmy Nail. who helped create the character. as well as portraying him. is aware of the dangers. but was keen to remove Spender from his familiar surroundings.

‘I wanted to take him out of his natural environment.‘ says Nail. ‘away from the police. his family. the Newcastle criminal network. In France. Spender has nothing -- he‘s out on a limb.‘

Geordie goes Marseilles in Spender: The French Collection.

Nail took the foreign posting rather more seriously than the light entertainment squad. spending'three months in Marseilles polishing the script before shooting began. ‘I felt a little lonely and isolated.‘ he says. ‘but to capture the smell and taste ofa place you have to go there. I’d always felt from what I know of Marseilles that it‘s like Newcastle in a lot of ways - though not particularly in criminal ways.‘

The resulting footage was almost too exotic. particularly a dramatic scene in which Spender’s sidekick Stick (Sammy Johnson) had to balance precarioust on top of a cable car. ‘I hope people who watch the special don‘t think we‘ve cheated.’ says Nail. ‘When I viewed the footage back in England. I said to the director that the background is so incredible that it actually looks like we‘ve matted it on in the studio. But if you see the look of panic on Sammy‘s face. you’ll know it’s for real.‘

The special will be the last we see of the Geordie detective. at least for a while. as Nail is moving on to a new project. Crocodile Shoes is a seven-part drama about the music business that will allow him to combine his careers as writer. actor and singer. ’l was getting to the point where l was worrying about getting a bit stale in my approach to Spender.’ he admits. ‘so I thought that rather than just doing more for the money. l‘d leave it alone. do some other stuff and then maybe come back to it later.‘

‘The way I look at it is that working for TV gives you a guarantee - unless you really mess things up badly - that what you do will be seen, potentially by millions of people.’

What he won’t be doing is giving up TV for films. Nail still has a touching faith in the potential of the small-screen medium. ‘You can spend millions making movies Schwarzenegger spent SI l5 million on Last Action Hem and it bombed. The way I look at it is that working for TV gives you a guarantee unless you really mess things up badly that what you do will be seen. potentially by millions of people.‘ Spender: The French Collection is on BBC 1 on Wednesday 29 December a!


The List l7 December l993-l3 January I994 83