By now, you'll probably have seen more episodes of Melissa (Channel 4, Tuesday) than I have, but, to judge by the first, this is going to be one of the year's television highlights. I've long entertained doubts about Britain's alleged top television screenwriter Alan Bleasdale -- after sitting through all trillion and one episodes of GBH, I muttered `Jesus! What a total waste of life!' - but Melissa certainly allayed most of them.
There are two things I find irritating about Bleasdale's work. One: because he's so highly rated, he tends to be given far more screentime than his plots strictly deserve. Two: that combination of shrill mawkishness and cringeworthy, sub-Rotarian unfunniness whose merits could only possibly be comprehensible to a certain class of Liverpudlian. Usually, the latter is embodied by a character played by Julie Walters, who reappears here as an infuriating old soak given to salt-of-the-earth wisdom and silly malapropisms.
I like to think, though, that, by the end of episode two or three, she'll have been bumped off by the mysterious killer, leaving us free to enjoy the other, more measured performances. Jennifer Ehle's enigmatic Melissa, for example, or Tim Dutton's saturnine foreign correspondent (probably the first sympathetically portrayed journalist in recent drama history).
Though the trademark Bleasdale annoyances are not wholly absent from Melissa, it does seem a good deal wittier, sprightlier, more action-packed and suspenseful than his usual hand-wringing, politically charged melodrama. This augurs well, I think, for drama under New Labour. Now that all those leftie playwrights no longer have a heartless `Tory fascist junta' to rail against, they'll remember their main job is to entertain us - not send us beating our breasts all the way to the polling booth.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
The Spectator reviews Melissa
James Delingpole wrote this article about Melissa in 1997 for The Spectator.