by Allan Fish
(UK 2004 352m) DVD2
The Las Vegas of the North
p Kate Lewis d Coky Giedroyc, Julie Anne Robinson w Peter Bowker ph Lukas Strebel ed Anthony Combes, David Rees m Robert Lane art Grenville Horner
David Morrissey (Ripley Holden), Sarah Parish (Natalie Holden), David Tennant (DCI Peter Carlisle), Thomas Morrison (Danny Holden), Georgia Taylor (Shyanne Holden), Steve Pemberton, David Bradley, Bryan Dick, Kevin Doyle, Emily Aston,
We feared the worst when we heard the premise of Blackpool. The idea of characters bursting into lip-synched song had been patented by Dennis Potter all those years ago, and one had to ask who could really aim to do it as well, let alone better. Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark took it a step further by having a star in Björk who didn’t have to lip-synch, but Blackpool would revert to formula. In actual fact, though, it wasn’t quite the same as Potter, for in Blackpool the actors do sing the songs, it’s just that they sing them low and are deliberately heard behind the original song (listen very carefully and you can tell). It’s a showy show, a gaudy show, but also a dark tale of love and death on the Golden Mile. It was the big unexpected hit of 2004.
Ripley Holden is a fortyish proprietor of an amusement arcade on the promenade who dreams of a casino hotel to rake in the punters, wanting to bring a touch of Las Vegas to Blackpool. Problem is that he’s doing it on the never-never with the help of a shady accountant. To complicate matters, just as planning permission is about to be granted, a body is found on his premises. Normally his close friendship with one of the police chiefs would paper over that crack, but an outsider – a Scottish detective based in Kendal – is called in and he instantly sees Ripley as the guilty party. If that wasn’t complicated enough, Ripley’s wife meets said detective, and they fall in love. Oh, and then there’s Ripley’s two kids…
It’s a fantasy soap opera, and it could so easily be an absolute disaster. It’s a credit to the director, cast, editors and writer that it doesn’t. Ripley Holden is one of the great creations of modern television, a braggart, a womaniser, a bigot in many ways, but a caring father and, deep down, possessing a great fear of failure. David Morrissey’s performance is, quite simply, a knockout, whether pulling cocky faces and asides, strutting his stuff singing the songs – heavy on the Elvis, naturally – or delivering some of the greatest lines written in recent times. His is not the only great performance, however; his scenes with David Bradley recall Our Mutual Friend, while his scenes with Tennant have a wonderful stand-off quality. This is where the Tennant bandwagon really got kick-started (Casanova and the Timelord from Gallifrey were just around the corner), and he’s superb, whether offering sarcastic quips to witnesses, winding up and taunting Morrissey or courting, with genuine feeling, Parish’s neglected wife. She’s never been better either, her scenes with Tennant carrying a real romantic quality that borders on tacky, but has a wonderful depth of feeling. Starting with a rendezvous outside Funny Girls of all places, Blackpool’s answer to the cantina at Mos Eisley, and taking in a stroll along the pier and a slow, romantic dance in the Tower Ballroom. All the songs are delightfully incorporated into proceedings, but it’s two almost identically titled tracks that stay with you; Tennant singing Gabrielle’s ‘Should I Stay, Should I Go’ to Parish, and kicking off The Clash’s anthem ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ when issuing a search warrant on Holden. And amongst dozens of Ripley Holdenisms, Tennant probably had the best throwaway line, discussing a day of absolute bliss in his past and murmuring “if Proust had drunk McEwans he’d have written about this.” It may be nonsense, it may be bizarre, and yes, it’s no The Singing Detective, but what is? It’s merely a wonderful trip into the heart of the town with the “cheap, cheery soul” and where “you can live a thousand lives…and still have room for a full English breakfast.” All this, and then there’s the realisation of what was to come a year later; Emily Aston makes an appearance here as if to signpost it. If you thought Blackpool was dark, Funland was just on the horizon…