Monday, 10 February 2014

Babylon (2014)




Discounting the Olympic Opening Ceremony, this was Danny Boyle's return to TV, his first since his two BBC plays from 2001, Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude In Paradise.

Actually much like those two ventures, generally recognised as an attempt to get back to basics and to challenge himself after the big expectations of Hollywood ventures such as The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary, it could be argued that Babylon is serving the same purpose; a refreshing comedown after the highs of the Olympics.

It's a pleasing and indeed exciting partnership between him, Channel 4 and the scriptwriters Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, Four Lions, The Thick of It and Fresh Meat) Indeed much was made of   the The Thick of It angle, with reviewers proclaiming this to do for London's Metropolitan Police what that show had done for politics and government. It would be foolish not to point out the similarities; both shows focus firmly on the importance of PR and feature a rather useless overweight pen pusher - Ella Smith here, Joanna Scanlan in TTOI - and there's much talk of spin and cover up's getting out of hand in what is an effective satirical swipe, but that's largely where the similarities end. Babylon comes equipped with Boyle's trademark edginess and visual style (the inevitable mirror shot, his trademark, occurs) and veers close to straight and shocking drama on numerous occasions thanks to the plot device of a deranged sniper killing innocents on London's streets. In 90 minutes, Babylon had me laughing and staring open mouthed in shock - a potent combination.

There's perhaps more affection or perhaps just plain understanding to those it pokes fun at here than there ever was in The Thick Of It. It seems Boyle, Bain and Armstrong are taking great pains to point out they admire the police and are aware they're doing a very difficult job in a society that doesn't make it easy thanks to both internal and external pressures and expectations. What it doesn't hold back on however is the all out chaos each decision inevitably lands the characters in.

The cast is impressive with James Nesbitt  as the sensible but buffeted Chief Commissioner and Brit Marling is an American PR guru headhunted on a platform of honesty and transparency that will clearly be an uphill struggle from the off, but it's fair to say Jonny Sweet as Nesbitt's hapless acolyte stole many a scene right there in the middle of New Scotland Yard's HQ. Cheeky. Whilst Paterson Joseph once again proved what a strong actor he is with a neat straight down the line approach to comedy.  I also really liked the naturalistic acting of Jill Halfpenny and Cavan Clerkin as two sensible and weary bobbies paired well with the more cartoonish immature knucklehead played by Adam Deacon.   

It was announced tonight that Babylon will become a series later this year, and I for one look forward to that.

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