Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Manhunt: Fare Forward Voyagers


I had better start off by clarifying two things. The first is that this post is about the series broadcast in 1970. The second is that I am very much out of my comfort zone because as a rule I don't like period films or TV, by which I mean ones set in a previous time to the time it is made. Don't get me wrong, I love old TV but there is in my opinion a lack of authenticity in period shows - they can't really get into the mindset. I have touched on that here before when talking about Peaky Blinders - while undoubtedly a good show it is too squeaky clean to represent the authentic Second City of the past. Another example which I haven't written about here before is Mad Men - what put me off that as an ex-smoker myself was (I do realise how potty this will sound) that the smoking seemed a bit self-conscious. Those of us who remember the seventies remember that everyone smoked and it was no big deal. it is difficult for an actor to portray something which is no longer routine, as a normal thing. It is strange for these youngsters to be smoking indoors, let alone in the workplace, and thus the authenticity is broken.

This is one of my little dislikes, like not liking recognising actors and having to think who they are. You would think that this drama, which is not only set in a different time but a different country wouldn't be my sort of thing. And you would be right, but I bought it on the offchance because its internet reviews are uniformly exceptional. Just to get this out of my head, I have also recently been watching some episodes of Allo Allo for the first time in years with great amusement. That show was current while I was at school and we used to ask our French teacher if she had seen it (she was an actual French woman) to her great displeasure. I actually found myself wondering whether Manhunt was an influence on Allo Allo at least in the visuals, however have found no confirmation of that online.

You see, Manhunt manages to get the period drama thing exactly right. The show is clearly set in wartime occupied France, clearly filmed in what looks very much like France, but is without the slightest element of caricature. The characters speak English without French or German accents, which to me is just perfect. The accents would make it too much of a caricature. What keeps hitting me is that it looks like Allo Allo (which is obviously studio-based) but is a serious drama.

It is genuinely a serious drama, but also with an incredibly light touch. Much of the drama made here set in the second world war has an element of motivation to it. This includes the films which were made well after the Second World War - the motivation of course was to get people together to get on with it and get the war done. Manhunt has no such agenda, and you will keep seeing online how it was striking at the time for depicting the Germans as ordinary people rather than monsters. I think it goes much further and depicts a lot of the normal motivations and feelings of real people in an extraordinary situation. It depicts them dispassionately and therefore gives you real twinges of sympathy and conflict as it goes on.

It drew me in and kept my attention, which isn't easy with my grasshopper mind.

This first episode sets the premise for what follows, and it will be some indication of how good I think this show is that I have leapt on here to write about it and actually don't know how the situation is resolved, because I have never seen this show before. In this episode a British airman, Jimmy Porter, crashes in occupied France and comes into the hands of a resistance cell. They are naturally suspicious of him but take him at face value when reassured by London. I'm not going to fib here, but I personally thought it would be much more realistic for them to do what they initially thought, which was to disbelieve his story and shoot him. But hey, really good TV can surprise us with our own reactions.

Just one criticism, which won't be surprising - lots of big names in the cast. However they cast Alfred Lynch as Jimmy, and I literally have no criticism for him as an actor. He was one of those really good actors who make you forget they are there. I have also recently seen him with Sean Connery in the wartime film On the Fiddle (1961), where he seemed a very different, cheeky chappy Cockney character. Incidentally that film is worth watching for its gay coding alone - Lynch and Connery talk and act like a couple and when you know that Lynch was gay you can see that he clearly wanted Connery to ravage him.

So no major criticism and I'm not promising that this will become a series of posts on this show because whenever I do that they fizzle out very quickly.


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