Channel 4's latest drama series A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME condenses twelve books into four episodes and includes cameo appearances from actors like Sir John Gielgud and Miranda Richardson. Ambitious? Them? Words: Fiona Shepherd
Poussin’s A Dance To The Music Of Time portrays poverty. labour. riches and pleasure as four classical human ﬁgures linked in a circular dance to personify the cyclical nature of the human condition. So says the art historian in the first film of the forthcoming TV drama of the same name. Acknowledging the influence of the concept on his writing. novelist Anthony Powell had borrowed the paintings title for his cycle of twelve books which he wrote between l95l and 1975. chronicling 50 years in the lives of a group of friends who first meet at boarding school. A work which straddles so much of the 20th century and contains more than 400 characters would certainly seem to have enough to attract a TV audience and there have been previous unsuccessful attempts (by Dennis Potter. then Ken Jewel In The Crown Taylor) to distil one million words into coherent screen time. Screenwriter Hugh Whitmore has been the man to crack the task. penning four two-hour film adaptations for Channel 4 — one each for the 20s. the 303. World War II and the ()0s. each corresponding to three books. the spring. summer. autumn and winter of the novel sequence. The characters have been condensed to a ‘mere’ l()() with the likes of James Purefoy, Paul Rhys and RSC actor Simon Russell Beale playing the central figures around whom top actors such as Sir John Geilgud, Miranda Richardson.
80 THE LIST 26 Sep-9 Oct 1997
Driving force: Simon Russell Beale as Kenneth Widmerpool in A Dance To The Music Of Time
In a matter of minutes A Dance To The Music Of Time has couples falling in and out of love, swapping partners, being reconciled and bumping into old friends they haven’t seen for years, or least since the last
Alan Bennett and Edward Fox orbit in sometimes little more than cameo appearances.
However. for Whitmore this was the best way to adapt such an epic and involved work.
‘If one were doing it in the old BBC classic serials way. it would take a lot more screen time.‘ he says.
‘When someone picks up a pen or drops a cup of
coffee. Powell describes it in enormous and very funny detail. It seemed to me that if one did them in large chunks. one could take something of an overview.‘
Moving even faster than Jimmy McGovern's new
TV drama The Lakes or your average episode of
Home And Away. in a matter of minutes A Dance . . . has couples falling in and out of love. conducting affairs. swapping partners. being reconciled and bumping into old friends they haven‘t seen for years. or least since the last scene.
‘lt‘s rather like reducing a sauce.‘ says Whitmore. ‘You see more clearly what it‘s made of. It was more constructive from my point of view to do something inspired by the books. Powell’s elegant and beautiful prose sometimes obscures the fact that his is a very savage and penetrating eye. What he has done is draw an enormous map of human experience from adolescence to old age. I have tried to reflect this while sometimes adding scenes that are not in the original.‘
In fact. the result is often disjointed; there is the additional irritation that the first episode reeks of Agatha Christie adaptations with a dash of Noel Coward camp (well. Powell was an Oxford contemporary of Evelyn Waugh); and there isn‘t a single character to really warm to. But the unfolding network of friendships and relationships has a forward momentum that makes you want to find out what happens to these over-privileged luvvies. But God help us if there‘s a war . . . oh. that’s right. there was one.
A Dance To The Music Of Time, Channel 4, Thu 9 Oct, 9pm.
Roots of Evil: Ordinary People Channel 4, Sun 28 Sep, 9pm.
Evil is a subject Rex Bloomstein has been fascinated with for some time. His films on the Holocaust, the Six Days War and the Prisoners Of Conscience series have looked at acts and abuses that cover the whole spectrum of 'evil'. Now, though, Bloomstein is averting his gaze from specific acts, and focusing on what motivates individuals and groups to commit these atrocities.
This search has resulted in the three programmes which make up the Roots of Evil series - 'Ordinary People’, 'Torturers', and 'Tyrants'.
'T he series’ purpose is to make us think about evil in a deeper way and to relate it to human behaviour,‘ explains Bloomstein. ’The most fundamental thing of all is that most evil in the world is committed by ordinary people. I think we have to recognise our own potential for violence and cruelty.‘
And violence and cruelty are all in there - serial killers, institutionalised bullies and bloodthirsty egomaniacs are Bloomstein’s cast. Instead of being seen as outwith society and its structures, these individuals are viewed as products of and integral threads in the social fabric. Yet, the optimist in Bloomstein retains a sense that evil can be overcome.
'I think we have to become more aware on a personal level,’ he says, 'it's there within all of us, that moment of anger, that moment of bitterness or extreme impatience when you can glimpse in yourself the potentialities for an evil act.’
But isn’t the word itself somewhat over-used, most notably during the James Bulger murder trial? ’I actually like the word,’ admits Bloomstein. 'We have to have language that reflects the wickedness in the world and that describes our feelings, and often emotions cannot be described in language.’ (Brian Donaldson)
The face of a killer: Donald Harvey in Roots Of Evil