David Kane has written an epic saga about at Newcastle gangster dynasty; David Hayman directed it. Eddie Gibb asks how two Scots
; came to be muscling in on Geordie
tephen Finney‘s not long buried his da with full gangland honours: the legend TUCKER picked out in white flowers alongside the coffin in the hearse: rival gangster Bobo Simpson filing past the open casket to show honour among thieves (and make sure the enemy is thoroughly dead); plods lounging on the bonnets of unmarked cars at the gates. ph(_)tographing the deceased’s business assoc- iates to update their mugshot files.
The story of Newcastle’s underworld begins in familiar thriller terrain. but it quickly becomes clear that writer David Kane is using the death of a criminal king to explore the internal pressures of a family. When at Simpson heavy says ‘like father, like son‘. Finney knows they are words that contain more truth than he cares to admit. He has tried to escape his gangster family by becoming a jazz musician but what Finney’s wondering is whether you can ever take the gangster out of the boy.
Triggered by his father's death. Finney’s childhood is returning in painful shards of memory. He will always remember Tucker as a vodka-swigging bully who dished out physical and emotional abuse to his wife and four children. The scene when the boy Finney, seen in flashback. is presented with the double bass he’s been pestering his father to buy him, is a brutalising moment. ‘D’ya love yer da, d’ya love yer da?’ his father taunts as he hands over the grudging gift.
Kane’s script emphasises these masculine moments in what is primarily a patriarchal piece, though Finney is not without strong female characters. Tucker’s favourite daughter Lena, ‘a ball-breaker” in the words of director David Hayman. unexpectedly inherits all her father’s semi-legit businesses from property interests to ‘fmancial services’. Lena immedi- ately shows that she isn’t afraid to continue Tucker’s strong-arm negotiation methods. But the use of flashback is confined to Finney so we don‘t find out directly about Lena’s formative expenences
‘lt was never written,’ agrees Hayman. ‘I thought it was a weakness because Lena had such a strong relationship with her father — she was the one that wore the trousers. I wanted some stuff written about that relationship but flashbacks from Lena’s point of view would have dislocated it slightly.’
The opening episode is littered with clues about Finney’s character, however. After hearing that his father has died from a knife in the guts, Finney leaves London and his lover without a backward glance. When he arrives
14 The List 4—17 November 1994
home in Newcastle. the banter with brother Tom quickly gives way to sarcastic sparring with his estranged wife.
‘He’s tried running away,’ says David Morrissey, who plays Finney in a marvellously restrained performance. ‘He’s tried building a brick wall and freezing out the rest ofthe human race but it hasn’t worked. He knows he belongs in Newcastle with his wife and family, it’s just trying to find the emotional equipment to make that transition.’
‘He’s tried building a brick wall and freezing out the rest of the human race but it hasn’t worked. He knows he
belongs in Newcastle with his wife and family, it’s just trying to find the emotional equipment to make that transition.’
Finney is the result of the need to find a Newcastle story to secure the backing of Tyne Tees Television. Rather than pitch an entirely new scenario, the independent producers latched onto the Sting character from Mike Figgis’ moody thriller Stormy Monday. David Kane was asked to come up with a story line which explored this idea of a man with a foot in two worlds — jazz and thuggery. However, the
finished piece owes little more than its location and the jazz motif to the film, which Hayman describes as a ‘vacuous piece of shite’. (Ironically most of the shooting was done in Glasgow using Hayman’s trusted Cardiac Arrest crew, with only identifiable landmarks like the Meccano bridge over the Tyne shot in Newcastle.)
Running to six hours of prime drama, Kane was given the luxury of letting the tightly- written gangster story unfold. without the need to use contrived plot devices or two-dimensional character cut-outs. The story is driven by Finney’s struggle to open ajazz club, but Kane has woven together a series of sub-plots that explore themes of family loyalty, the rejection of violence and, above all. the importance of forgiveness.
Despite the occasional brutality. humour runs throughout Finney and anyone who saw Kane’s seedy showbiz farce Dumbstruck at Mayfest this year will be familiar with his ability to throw out ironic one-liners to his characters. John McCardle’s stream of nervous consciousness as he waits to drive Tom to a hit is pure Tarantino. For Hayman, the script was just too out-and-out funny at times.
‘I played the humour down and cut a lot of it out,’ he says. ‘David Kane is a brilliant writer and he always mixes comedy with drama, but I felt it went to far. If Bobo and the Simpson family are meant to be a serious threat to the Finneys then I didn’t want to make them out to be too comic.’ .
On the evidence of two episodes, Hayman has pulled off that seriously difficult television trick; making mass-appeal entertainment that crackles with ideas. Top ratings and BAF'I’As all round, if there’s anyjustice. C]
Finney begins on Thursday I 7 November at 9pm
on Scottish. '3’, V ' I I
g i z i 2
Jazz man: Finney faces up to hls family responslbllltles