Going under- ground
In his latest series for Channel 4, Drop The Dead Donkey co-creator Andy Hamilton trades in his press card for a ticket to a seedy criminal UNDERWORLD.
Words: Rob Driscoll
She gets thrown around. bound and gagged. in the back of taxi driver Mike Reid’s cab. and held at knifepoint by his psychopathic boss, Kevin McNally — but. for actress Susan Wooldridge. the chance to do ‘lots of scared acting’ was just one of the many bonuses about her starring role in Underworld.
ln Channel 4’s new six-part black comedy-thriller. written by Drop The Dead Donkey co-creator Andy Hamilton. Wooldridge co- stars with James Fleet as sister and brother Susan and William Smith — at the outset two ‘normal’ people living ordinary lives. But one day William comes home to ﬁnd his life has been turned upside down; his young bride has left him and stripped the house bare. Soon he and his sister are being dragged into an alien world of criminal grotesques, where the laws of common decency don‘t apply.
‘When I first got the script, my initial reaction was one of panic because I was on nearly every single page.’ recalls Wooldridge. whose past roles include Daphne Manners in Jewel In The Crown. and Jeanetta, Hodge’s older girlfriend. in Preston Front. ‘But when you get writing of the quality of Andy Hamilton‘s — lines that are both hilarious and thought-provoking — then it‘s a real treat to be the girl with the most words.
‘Susan emerges as an extraordinarily complex character. At first she seems like Everywoman. She wakes up one morning in her mid-40$. coping with a fresh divorce and holding on to an awkward job, but via what is basically a bad thing. she goes on this wonderful adventure, which is where the scared acting comes in. I’ve never done any of that before. I’m really proud of the moment when a tear manages to roll down my cheek when Kevin McNally puts a knife to my forehead.’
Hamilton’s extraordinary serial starts out as quirky, off-the-wall comedy. with Fleet and Wooldridge. almost like a modern-day Nick and Nora Charles, getting to the bottom of a bizarre mystery.
80 THE UST 23 Oct—6 Nov 1997
'For the record, l’ll put it on the line that Underworld has
confrontations, eight murders, five armed confrontations, four sex scenes and three naked
Andy Hamilton, writer, Underworld
Under pressure: the cast of Underworld
But the tone becomes a lot darker. and grimmer, as they find themselves mixing with a talented psychopath (McNally). a retired gangster (Alun Armstrong), a phobic cabbie (Mike Reid) — plus Annette Crosbie. quite sublime as Susan and William’s wonderfully brave hospital-bound aunt who wants Cole Porter and Meatloaf at her funeral.
‘l’m normally quite diffident about my writing.’ says Hamilton. ‘But l‘m
intensely proud of Underworld. especially the performances. Susan
[Wooldridge] and James [Fleet] are fantastic. so subtle. and Annette Crosbie should be made a dame.’
Sparkling performances aside, Hamilton is not one to scrimp on the sex and violence quota in his writing. So how does Underworld measure up on the X-rating front?
‘Critics often accuse me of including indefensible ingredients in my work. so. for the record. I’ll put it on the line that Underworld has thirteen physical confrontations. eight murders (nine if you count the dog), five armed confrontations, four sex scenes. three naked breasts, two bomb explosions, and one horrific rendition of ‘Blue Is The Colour’. It‘s populated by psychopaths. and I wrote every single one.’
Underworld begins on Channel 4, Tue 4 Nov, 10pm.
EX-S: Palin On Redpath BBCl, Wed 5 Nov, 10.45pm.
Michael Palin, ex-Python and collector of more Air Miles than Budgie The Helicopter, isn't the most obvious candidate to present the long-running Scottish arts and entertainments show EX-S. Yet that is exactly what happens in the first programme of the new series, when Palin, intrigued by a painting of the French town of Menton hanging in his front room, travels to Edinburgh and the South of France to trace its origins.
The artist responsible is Anne Redpath, the celebrated Scottish painter. Galashiels-born, she lived in France in the early 1930s before moving to Edinburgh where she was the doyenne of the city’s art scene until her death in 1965. Palin examines the life and career of this fascinating woman by literally following in her footsteps.
’I felt a connection between myself and Redpath,’ he explains. ’She was a great traveller and brought back mementos, and obviously I travel around a lot for TV and always return with lots of objects. That idea of trying to retain a memory of a place is very strong in my Menton painting. I definitely feel we would have got on.’
In his search for Redpath's roots, Palin nips over to the South of France to track down the view depicted in his painting and to check out the artist’s former family home. Back in Blighty, he heads for Edinburgh and an encounter with David Michie, Redpath's son and an artist in his own right. who sheds light on his mother's innovative technique. Palin also talks to Michie’s wife Eileen who was Redpath's favourite model.
As enlightening as the programme is, its real strength lies in Palin’s infectious enthusiasm for Redpath.
'When I look at her paintings they enlarge on the pleasure of looking at the real objects,’ he enthuses. 'Her work enriches the way I look at things.’ (Peter Ross)
The art of travel: Michael Palin on Scottish artist Anne Redpath in EX-S