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[WATCH IT THIS FORTNIGHT
TV CRIME AND PUNISHMENT BBC2, Mon 12 & Tue 13 Feb, 9pm .0...
hate costume dramas. As soon as the names
Jane Austen, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope
and Charles Dickens are spoken in relation to
a ‘major new television drama’, an evening spent browsing in a pet food aisle seems ever more appeaﬁng.
More often than not, they’ve seemed to be an excuse for big names (David Jason, Robert Lindsay) to ham it up and for upcoming talents (Julia Sawalha, Rufus Sewell) to watch and learn how to ham it up in future costume dramas. The writers (Andrew Davies, Alan Bleasdale) use it as a chance to wield someone else’s story, shake it about a bit, and tell us it’s a contemporary take on a timeless subject.
Yet, any new meaning the stories may have tends to be hidden deep within chunks of long, austere, humourless, daft and flouncy tedium which appear to be there for the sole purpose of justifying the fat budgets swimming around for these kinds of production.
Tony Marchant appears to take the literary canon a bit more seriously. His Great Expectations from 1999 was a revelation to those sick to death of stately period drama and it certainly shut up those who thought that Colin Firth sucking in his cheeks and being gazed upon lovingly by Jennifer Ehle’s heavy bosoms was the last word in classical adaptation.
For Dickens, and now Dostoevsky, Marchant whips into shape the brutal central truth of the works and rides them along on a wave of clever currency. He’s not just there to tell us that this piece of ‘ye olde literature’ can still have resonance in the year 2002; Marchant wants you to taste the modernity. And smell the harshness.
The production is shot gloriously by Julian Jarrold (Marchant’s director on Great Expectations), and an excellent cast complement the visuals by delivering Marchant’s lines with both passion and measure, with John Simm leading the way as Dostoevsky’s anti-hero Raskolnikov.
It proved to be a labour of love. ‘l’ve been to bed with Raskolnikov,’ confesses Simm. ‘Alongside Hamlet, it is probably the most intense part in the history of literature. Mentally and physically, this is the most demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life and at the end the most
Marchant wants you to taste the modernity
0000. Excellent 0... Recommended Good Flawed
John Simm: ‘l’ve
3 Jim: L.”
and smell the harshness
rewarding by a million miles.’
And blow me, but that effort has paid off handsomely. Simm is great as the loose student cannon Raskolnikov, set off by frustration and pride to murder a callous pawnbroker, and in one of the toughest scenes you’ll see on your small screen this or any other year, is forced to take some collateral damage with him.
Like any good literary felon, guilt almost sweeps him away. His tortured dreams force him to confront the arrival of harsh justice, all the while trying to protect those close to him: his sister from two bad men, a local prostitute from street terrors and his mum from himself.
While Simm shows that he has cast aside previous sarcasms that he was ‘the biggest Brit film star you’ve never heard of’ (0/0 Sky magazine), he is far from the best thing in Crime And Punishment. As well as the visual impact of Jarrold’s camera, there is a driving, moving soundtrack by Adrian Johnston.
And within the cast itself, there are excellent performances from Ian McDiarmid as the cunning investigator Porfiry, Geraldine James as Raskolnikov’s despairing mum and Lara Belmont as the breadwinning prostitute. Costume dramas? Just can’t get enough of them. (Brian Donaldson)
.4‘. Jan 1-: ivl‘ 3C0.) THE LIST 93