Unprecedented Review 2022 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew
Aweek before the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, playwrights, directors and actors were invited to create short dramas about the vicissitudes of pandemic life as it unfolded. Headlong and Century Films hoped that the commissions would explore how theatre could be made in, and about, the new reality that has hit us.
The idea, in effect, was to capture the storm on camera in a series of 14 films that document and dramatise real-life issues, although the endeavour to turn life, as it is happening, into the stuff of gripping drama is not without its risks.
In the first eight films, collected into three episodes screened on BBC Four this week, we find much familiar fare about the pains and inconveniences of life in quarantine. There are glitches on Skype (“can you hear me now?”) and small talk about bread-making. An awkward office meeting with a cut-throat boss on Zoom is the subject of John Donnelly’s Going Forward, while a neighbourhood party online ends in a drunken, disorderly state in April de Angelis’s House Party. The lockdown is shown from generational points of view, from James Graham’s frustrated teenagers in Viral to Duncan Macmillan’s baby-boomers in Grounded, starring Katherine Parkinson and Alison Steadman, who carry on having get-togethers and going to Zumba classes after lockdown is announced.
But although the films press our noses against our own realities, each one weaves its own magic. They are entertaining and gripping, turning in unexpected directions and hitting suddenly dark, tender or heart-rending notes.
Graham’s film, directed by Ola Ince, features three 18-year-olds (Laurie Kynaston, Archie Madekwe and Stuart Thompson) who dramatise Gen Z preoccupations (TikTok and Joe Wicks workouts) and fears. “It’s going to be our generation that will be screwed by this,” says one. The film ends with their rendition of Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, sung for an ailing grandmother, and the generations are movingly connected by it.
Anna Maloney’s Safer at Home, about middle-class domestic violence, is among the strongest in its narrative ambition. Directed by Brian Hill, it tells the story of a pregnant wife (Gemma Arterton) who makes Skype calls to her mother-in-law (Geraldine James) in which they speak about everyday things. Behind the smiles and shows of affection between Arterton and her husband (Rory Keenan), a growing tension hints at his abusive behaviour and her powerlessness. It is a subtly told and sinister story, brilliantly performed.
Other films sound equally strong notes: Charlene James’s Penny, directed by Holly Race Roughan and starring Lennie James, illuminates the experience of homelessness during lockdown, while Tim Price’s Romantic Distancing, directed by Jeremy Herrin, captures a blundering, and lovable, masculinity as a musician (Arthur Darvill) gets dumped on Skype by a woman (Inès de Clercq) he had just begun dating before lockdown, and woos her back with earnest, romantic words.
Prasanna Puwanarajah’s Fear Fatigue, directed by Brian Hill, is the most documentary-like of all the dramas. It uses the words of NHS workers interviewed just before lockdown, which are spoken directly into camera by actors including Rory Kinnear, Paterson Joseph and Jodie McNee. They cover everything from the lack of protective clothing to writing wills and contain all the dread of anticipating certain disaster. “We are planning for this enormous event,” says a doctor. “I have had two panic attacks. There are no masks. It’s a shitshow,” adds a female frontline worker. “It’s like being in the middle of a war zone,” says another. It is horrifying, occasionally uplifting and a reminder of the fear, hysteria, heroism and drama of our own recently lived pasts.