11 November 2008 | james_gb
Your favourite racial struggle clichés and World War One clichés, together at last!
This is the worst piece of television I have seen on BBC Four. If the objective was to trot out the archetypal racial conflict story amidst well-worn World War One clichés, and it seems that it was, then congratulations are in order. At no point did the viewer encounter anything vaguely surprising, illuminative or original.
The main character's only personality trait seemed to be that he was suffering from shellshock, thus allowing us to be treated to some gloriously schlocky flashbacks. The supporting characters were even less developed, a lazy roll call of the belligerent drill sergeant, the unbending army administrator, the sensitive young officer and more than one officer bound to service by his ancestors' example. The romance between Walter Tull and a local girl was completely isolated from the narrative and served little purpose beyond furnishing some painfully contrived love scenes.
In addition to these shortcomings, little effort seemed to have been made to evoke the era. Beyond a few mentions of the futility of the particular war, it could have been a black officer learning his trade in 1942 or 1951. Better research could have saved the sensitive officer from referring to "the establishment" in a manner that did not come about until the 1950s or exhibiting an unrealistically developed understanding of post-traumatic stress syndrome for a young man living at that time who had not even seen action. The dialogue was lifted wholesale from the present day, more Jerry Springer than fighting gerry. Does the writer really consider, "Whatever happens, happens. If I've done my best, what else can I do?" an accurate representation of 1917 parlance?
The writer also came a cropper with his treatment of racism. He decided to embellish the historical evidence so that Tull was booted off his football team in the face of hostility from his own fans, and prejudice from his club chairman. But, while people could not accept a black man on the football pitch, we are expected to believe that his brother work as a doctor, a profession that would require close personal contact between races?
In defence of the writer, he was hamstrung by the relatively short running time and seemed to want to cram too many threads into the script. Perhaps, with more room to work in he could have developed it into something worth watching, but the poor quality of the work on display would not cause me to hold out much hope. Constraints of time also left us with an insulting brusque conclusion, that lacked even the most basic pathos that the death of a young man in his prime tends to evoke. The failings of this drama are only magnified by its proximity to the broadcast last year of 'My Boy Jack,' a television film that dealt with the militarism and colonial attitudes of the time with subtlety and intelligence.
The struggle for racial equality is undoubtedly one of the great narratives of the twentieth century and it is a rich mine for dramas of this sort. However, I do not consider it sufficient to merely greenlight any idea that begins, "the first black
" We have all seen that idea brought to the screen before and there is now a need to unearth stories with greater nuances in order to cast new light on the issues. It is even less forgivable in this instance because it would seem that the writer was given considerable historical license and yet chose to use it only to follow others down a well-worn path.