Saturday, 6 February 2021

Villains (1972): Bernie


Sometimes you just have to prioritise yourself. With food prices soaring after Brexit, a global pandemic in which my employer was apparently unable to understand what 'stay at home' means and my joints playing up again, I have come to my senses and handed my notice in. I intend to rest for several months at least to let my joints settle down again.

I have quite a few things either buzzing round in my head or shows I haven't written about yet, to write about here.

Villains doesn't seem to be featured much in the blogosphere, however does have many online reviews which are decidedly mixed and which I broadly agree with. If you see write ups you will see that this is described as a show 'with a difference', which is usually the kiss of death because it usually means someone is being too clever. I don't think that is the case here. The premise is simple: the series follows a gang of bank robbers individually after they escape prison. Spoiler: they get recaptured. 

The fact they get recaptured is a slight problem to start with - by 1972 the notorious case of the Great Train Robbers was nearly a decade old and so everyone knew how to escape from prison properly and not get recaptured. You can read more  here about how that robbery captivated the nation. 

The other frequent criticism on t'internet is that because this show follows the robbers individually you tend to wonder what's happening with the others. To cut to the chase with these valid criticisms: the robbers escape, get captured and are followed up individually. I think you would either like or dislike this premise. The strength of this approach is that it creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere, which I suppose is exactly what being on the run would feel like. The fact you don't know what is happening with the others actually creates for the viewer exactly the sense you would have if you were one of a number of prison escapees, of never knowing what is going to happen or whether you can trust anyone.

This episode is about the thief called Bernard Owens, played by one of my favourite actors, Tom Adams. One of these days I might write about him spoofing James Bond in several films as Charles Vine. Here he uncharacteristically plays a working class character, rather than the toffs he frequently plays. This series has a number of big names, which as you all know, I tend to find distracting.

Bernie's tale has an ethical undercurrent of the effects of crime on the criminal's family. We see his wife pleading with him not to do it and see him arrested in front of his son. The impression I get is the wife's mother should have warned her daughter about him. He doesn't only insist on going ahead with the robbery but minimises the danger and the effect on the family. He's either hooked on the adrenaline or just doesn't care, in fact he actually comes across as quite psychopathic. He also has another woman on the go and his solicitor is definitely crooked! The solicitor is played by Paul Eddington so it seems as if a government minister is involved.

One of the best things about this show is the visuals. It is very clear that crime does pay, because we see lots of flares and the latest eye-popping 1970s interiors. In Bernie, his hideout is in a caravan at the seaside and there are very effective shots of the seaside out of season.

What I think is less effective is the flashback technique which is frequently used and makes the plot rather difficult to follow. That is the only bit where I think it's being too clever for its own good. That said the technique means you have to concentrate on this, which of course may be a good thing in itself.

I don't post about shows which are duds, but I think Villains is open to criticism if you don't approach it expecting what it actually does, which is turn the conventional escape story on its head.

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