Sometimes it can happen that an actor you’ve never really rated can astonish you. It happened with Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal and it’s happened again with Steve Coogan. Not being a fan of cringe comedy I never particularly enjoyed the Alan Partridge series, and the edgy competitiveness of The Trip with Rob Bryden left me cold – but Stan and Ollie was an absolute revelation. To be fair Coogan had shown his prowess playing Martin Sixsmith in Philomena when he helped an Irish mother on a quest to find her son, in the process unravelling outrageous behaviour on the part of the Catholic church. But in Stan and Ollie he was Stan Laurel to the life. I’m old enough to remember when the pair were on TV; like Morecambe and Wise the format was corny and traditional but there was something that made them funny in themselves. You could plonk them down on a desert island and they’d be doing routines with the coconuts and dancing with the trees. I was utterly stunned by the brilliance of Coogan’s Stan Laurel and by the film in general; John C Reilly was pretty good as Oliver Hardy but Coogan played Stanley without a trace of mimicry. Nothing was self-conscious or overdone; he simply seemed to get into the skin of the character and play him from the inside out – which I guess is what good actors do.
It must be difficult playing real people, especially when those people are within living memory. Jason Watkins played a blinder as Harold Wilson in The Crown and he gives an interesting interview to Mary Beard about the process in her series on culture in lockdown. On the same programme there was a discussion about historical drama. How far should you go in taking liberties with the facts? Is there a distinction between fact and a deeper truth? Much of the fascination with historical drama is that it goes ‘behind the scenes’ and gives us action which, in the words of The Crown‘s preamble, is ‘imagined to be consistent with the facts.’ It’s this aspect of imagination, brought into play in order to tell a deeper truth, to which good drama aspires – but Simon Jenkins of Guardian fame didn’t seem to get this at all. ‘How do they get away with it?’ he wailed, clearly not understanding the difference between drama and journalism. (I was once in the same room as Simon Jenkins, at a CND conference.)
The weekend’s viewing also included a Victoria Wood-fest (Saturday night, BBC 2) and a retrospective of June Whitfield (Sunday, BBC4) as well as the inevitable Casualty. If I talk a lot about TV it’s because hardly anything else happens. I did a Quaker meditation and went for a drive to charge the car battery – and that was that. Next week I shall be taking a week off to do some decorating, so I’m looking forward to that; a nice trip out to B&Q to get some paint. Lovely.
Hope you had a good weekend. What were you watching?