Many years ago, I remember watching a wonderful mini-series on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre that was called Pictures, by writer Roy Clarke. (He would later create and write all 44 episodes of the series, Keeping up Appearances, starring the wonderful Patricia Routledge, which is still being relentlessly re-run on PBS. But he's most renowned in England for creating Last of the Summer Wine, which ran for a stunning 37 years -- until 2010 -- for which almost as stunningly, he wrote all 295 episodes.) Pictures was about the early days of talking movies. I remember little of it, expect that it was wonderful. And that one of my favorite, little-known British character actors, Anton Rodgers, was in it as the funny, pompous Actor. (He's most recognizable to U.S. audiences for singing the Oscar-nominated song, "Thank You Very Much," from the movie musical Scrooge.)
But this isn't about Pictures, wonderful as it was.
Pictures, you see, was a sequel, of sorts. Not precisely, because it had a different cast. But three years earlier, Roy Clarke created and wrote Flickers, which was about the early days of the silent movie industry in England. As terrific as Pictures was, it was Flickers that had the reputation. Not just for being funny, dramatic, and wonderfully written and produced, but also because it starred a young Bob Hoskins, in one of his first starring roles. (He'd come to fame only two years earlier, as the seedy lead of Pennies for Heaven, the TV production that later was made into a feature film with Steve Martin.) Opposite Hoskins was the wonderful Frances de La Tour as his mismatched mate.
But I'd never seen it. Flickers passed me by when it was first on, and there was no way to track it down. And it faded from the forefront of my memory, though always staged lodged in the back. And then, recently prompted by a friend, screenwriter and now-professor Ian Abrams, I checked on Netflix, and -- by gum, Flickers is there! (Alas, Pictures is not...)
And so, at last, I've finally seen it.
Flickers is six episodes of 50-minutes each, that runs over three discs. And it lives up to its reputation. The production values are a bit dated, but everything else is first-rate, notably the writing and all the acting. The first disc is a pleasure, though I did scratch my head a bit wondering how it would hold up. It not only holds up, but builds richly from there and gets better with each episode. It's quite funny, but by no means is this a comedy. This is a drama, some of it is even heart-breaking, in a few places where you least expect it, The characters are well-developed, thoughtful and involving. (My favorite critical comment on Netflix is from someone who gives it three-stars and starts by saying, "It's good, but it's hardly what you'd call a comedy." Well...no, that's because -- it's Not A Comedy!)
Flickers is not necessarily my all-time favorite Masterpiece Theatre production, but it's a joy, and its affection among its fans over the decades is understandable and highly-deserved. Just know that, while very good at the first, it picks up and develops as the series goes along.
Now, if they can just get Pictures on DVD...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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