30 August, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Gunrush"

Kathryn Flett, The Observer

Nonetheless, despite a dearth of cracking drama, one can easily see how Gunrush (ITV1) lay gathering dust on a scheduler's shelf for a couple of years, because despite a good cast – Timothy Spall, Deborah Findlay, David Harewood – and a timely storyline about urban gun crime, written by Richard Cottan, who is normally very good, it was eventually undermined by an ending so infuriatingly silly it might have been conceived by a trio of hairdressers, or the person on line 3 in a radio phone-in competition, or a TV executive.

Obviously gun crime among young black men is a bit of a hot political potato-chip on the shoulder, but having decided to commission a drama in which a young black male teenager pulls a gun on a young white female teenager and kills her, one probably ought to have the courage of a bit of conviction and bring it to some sort of plausible conclusion, rather than, for example, turning the quiet, non-confrontational nice-guy bereaved dad character (Spall) into a pistol-packing would-be vigilante facing down the baaaaad kids in a gloomy tower block basement, before – ta-dah!– the kids were suddenly shot in the back by a character touting what looked suspiciously like a Deus ex machina-gun (and I'm sorry about the punmanship – it's still August and it goes with the territory). It is, unfortunate too that, as the camera pulled back, one could see quite clearly, painted on the wall behind the sobbing Spall, in very large letters, the word UBBISH. And you didn't need to be a DS assigned to the case in order to work out what that missing letter might be. Hell, even a couple of TV execs could've worked it out


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John Preston, Daily Telegraph

"Almost anything would suffer by comparison with Wallander, but Gunrush (last Sunday, ITV1) suffered very grievously indeed. Timothy Spall played Doug, an unflappable driving instructor whose teenage daughter was shot dead during an argument in a supermarket – whereupon kindly, unflappable Doug vowed to track down the killer. Various racial themes – the killer was black – were nervously touched upon, but never really developed. Instead, implausibility was heaped upon implausibility with hectic abandon, a process that never caused the pace to rise above a funereal clop.

At the end, Doug almost shot the killer with his own gun – we were teasingly invited to believe that he had done – before abruptly coming to his senses. Afterwards, sitting at home, he and his wife heard their surviving daughter tentatively start to play her cello; the same cello which had lain unplayed since her sister’s murder. It was a scene best watched with a large watertight container close to hand."

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Ian McCann,
The Independent

Is ITV fulfilling its obligations as a public-service broadcaster?

Forget the death of The South Bank Show and overlook the fact that it probably finds News at 10 an inconvenience. Those things don't matter. ITV's main obligation is to cheer the public up over a nice cup of tea: Emmerdale, Heartbeat, "An Audience with Radiohead", that kind of thing. When it's bleak outside, ITV is as cosy as a fish supper for two. So it is good to see that nice Timothy Spall in a new drama, along with Deborah Findlay from Cranford.

Gunrush opened cheerfully enough, with Timo playing a bumbler so mild and green that it's a shock to discover he's called Doug and not Fairy Liquid. Then Doug and family went into a shop, jostled some hoodies, and bang, his darling teenage daughter was bleeding to death on the floor. Suddenly, you remember this is called Gunrush and the film, like Doug, Will Never Be the Same Again.

Doug blamed himself, because that's the sort of guy he is. His wife Jill also blamed him, because that's the sort of guy he is. Eventually, Doug proved he was a man by snapping at Jill and stealing – from the police – the gun cartridge that killed his daughter. Pretty soon, he'd gone feral, roaming the estate where he rightly assumed the killers lived, looking for revenge, the gun ... anything, really. This was dangerous territory, so he hired a crackhead guide, played perfectly by Paul Kaye in Pulling mode, and upset the local arms dealer. Don't try this at home. Then Doug ruined the estate's karaoke night by sobbing "Both Sides Now" (what is it about telly script writers and karaoke? Do they think working-class folk spend their entire lives singing?) and begging, over the mic, for help in finding his daughter's killer. One of the hoodies' grannies heard his plea, triggering a crescendo that rose to a truly grim if unlikely climax.

Nobody came out of Gunrush well. The cops were racially divided and hardly cared. The teen gangstas were squabbling pawns. Doug and Jill were also lured by the thrill of weaponry. The hoodies' probation officer (David Harewood, currently Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop at London's Trafalgar Studios) was corruptible. Only Doug's other daughter had redeeming features. And although it used that weird glowavision that many modern ITV dramas employ, Gunrush was really dark and everything looked black and white.

That didn't apply to the story, which had ambiguities galore. Would the police really appear so blasé about the murder of a nice middle-class girl? Do black kids still use the 1970s slang "seen" for "understood"? The drama's message remained unclear, although there were hints about racism, class and the power vested in firearms, and Jill pointedly mentioned "respect".

Gunrush was gripping, and it's admirable that it was made in this economic climate, but quite a lot of it was baffling, including the final action scene. It must have gone over the heads of other viewers too: no wonder the network is struggling. When Doug's daughter started playing the cello at the end and the curtains were opened to let light in at last, I heaved a sigh of relief. Curse you, ITV, my tea's stone cold.

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3 comments:

Lucy V said...

I thought this was bloody horrendous, very shocked Timothy Spall (an actor I normally rate very highly) would lend his name to this drivel. Now you know me robin, I can normally dig quite deep in my own optimistic way and find *something* about a film or TV prog to recommend it, but I cannot. think. of. anything. Stereotypes abounded, characters were 2D and it was all horribly predictable, a story we've seen countless times and usually with Jean Claude Van Damme in it FFS. After the great UNFORGIVEN and THE CHILDREN last year in this same slot, I was vvvvvv disappointed.

Robin Kelly said...

I agree. I was looking forward to it but I knew it was going to be bad by the first 10 minutes. The lack of truth was obvious from how the death happened to the copper showing the dad the evidence to the dad taking the evidence to etc etc. NONE of it made sense.

It is annoying when stars do rubbish scripts just for the money. But I can't complain as I would like to write rubbish scripts just for the money ;-)

Lucy V said...

You're right of course. I was having this conversation only the other day actually with an actress I know whose face you might recognise. When I asked her why she did a film I thought was completely crap, she confessed she thought it was too but her kid's school fees were due and she'd had three months with no work. Says it all really, doesn't it!!! Can't blame her though... We all do crap shit for money, right? And who, writer, actor etc is lucky enough to say:

"Hey, I know you're offering me £_________ but I can't do it cos the script is pants"?

Very few, I'd imagine.