In terms of unappetizing prospects, an adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s 1930’s book about children on a jolly boating adventure is hard to beat; it’s so old-fashioned it makes Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven look as hard-boiled as a Jim Thompson novel. Credit Dear Frankie screenwriter Andrea Gibb for adding a few select espionage elements to this BBC prodiction which manage to give it more of the flavor of classic spy-story The Riddle of the Sands. Philla Lowthorpe directs and there’s a strong supporting cast including Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall, Harry Enfield, Andrew Scott and Jessica Hynes. The sunny feel of the Swallows and their rivalry with the Amazons is well caught, but the careful integration of real-world issues is deftly handled and revitalizes a fairly hoary old property to good effect.
This BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantell’s bestselling book is a history lesson, but it’s never dull. Mark Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell, the man behind the man in the court of King Henry VIII (Damien Lewis). His position as an eminence grise is established through his relationship with Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Price), but it’s the battle between Cromwell and the King that makes Wolf Hall such a gripping watch. Covering much of the same ground as A Man For All Seasons, Wolf Hall has a much more political view of historical events, complete with some wicked humour and freaky dream sequences. And Rylance’s performance is a huge achievement; good as he was in support in Bridge of Spies, this is acting as its very best.
Another entry in the minuscule hybrid sub-genre of time-travelling romance, The Flipside of Dominick Hyde is a BBC Play For Today production at feature length; back in the days before the BBC was given over to antiques and home renovation documentaries, these plays were transmitted at 9.25pm and watched by millions. The Flipside is one of the best remembered; Peter Firth plays a traveller from 2130 who is sent back to London in 1980 to research the transport system and secretly search for an ancestor. Instead he falls for Jane (Caroline Langrishe), who takes him for ‘dirty weekends in Herne Bay’ in return for advice about smoking, aerosols and football pools. Alan Gibson and Jeremy Paul’s script has a few brilliant jokes, one involving a trio of virtual musicians who always play Beatles tunes, and a nicely judged sentiment about the past as a foreign land that one may return to, but never find a home in.