Posts Tagged ‘Passing’

The Passing Bells, review, BBC One: ‘unconvincing’

November 3rd, 2014

Bleak House has a lot to answer for. Until Andrew Davies’s masterful adaptation of the Dickens classic was broadcast back in 2005, few would have dared to run a serious half-hour serial in a soap-opera slot, often several times a week. Yet this gamble became a gimmick and the latest to try this method is Tony Jordan’s five-part First World War drama The Passing Bells, named after a line from Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth. Giving 30 minutes over to one year of the conflict every night this week, it follows the inevitably converging paths of two young men – boys, really – from opposing sides.

Not that the latter was immediately apparent. Against a pastoral background seemingly worthy of Constable, farmer’s son Michael (Jack Lowden) was failing to get his oats. Interrupted from a roll in the cornfield by his girlfriend’s parents, he received the news of war – carefully accompanied by clear explanations of the wider political context – with relish. Likewise small-town delivery boy Tommy (Paddy Gibson, in the more lightly sketched of the two roles), as both defied their parents and slipped on a uniform. At which point, it became clear, Michael would be fighting for the Kaiser.

From there, it was a rapid whirl through training and bonding in the barracks, with supporting players briskly and effectively introduced. Already, I was wondering who, if any of them, might survive – and finding myself caring about it. Tommy was briefly captivated by the birdlife of northern France, and a poppy was prominently framed as the two men marched to the Front in their battalions. But this was the calm before the greatest storm the world had ever known. By the end of the first episode, Michael’s first pal been felled and the loss of innocence was underway. Danny Dyer will have nothing on the pre-watershed horrors about to ensue.

It wasn’t a wholly convincing start to the series, with a strain of sentimentality only underscored by the sweeping strings and penny whistle on the soundtrack. But things can only get bleaker from here. With fine performances, a welcome absence of jingoism and the beginning of a trajectory of inevitable tragedy, this offered a solid foundation for a serial which will surely accumulate emotional impact night after night. Do stick with it.


World War Two

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