Thursday, 20 March 2014

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky (2005) and the Photographs of Bill Brandt

Patrick Hamilton had an almost Dickensian like ability to observe and convey the struggles of ordinary London lives yet he seems to be something of an overlooked genius.

His trilogy of semi autobiographical late 20s/early 30s novels - The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure and The Plains of Cement - known by the umbrella title Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky had previously been adapted for the screen in 1963 with Bitter Harvest (a 60s set update that played fast and loose with the source material and focused primarily on the second novel) but this 2005 adaptation brought to BBC4 so utterly beautifully, by director Simon Curtis, adapter Kevin Elyot and producer Kate Harwood, is really the one to watch.

A spellbinding and thoroughly absorbing authentic period drama, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky is a lovingly acted and shot story of unrequited love, hardship, ambition and disappointment.

Bryan Dick, Zoe Tapper and Sally Hawkins play waiter and aspiring writer Bob (Hamilton in disguise), prostitute Jenny and barmaid Ella respectively, each taking it in turn to be the protagonist for each of the three tales. All of them are heartfelt, affecting and hypnotic and each character so brilliantly layered, crafted and played yet it is perhaps Hawkins who is the stand out from a trio of impressive turns. At turns comedic (alongside some wonderfully humourous playing by Phil Davis as an eager and hopeless, ageing suitor) and poignant, she fair breaks my heart.

It's just beautiful and the authentic detail and desaturated cinematography employed for the production was inspired by the work of Hamilton contemporary, the photographer Bill Brandt; specifically his photographs of London in the 1930s - one of which was used for the Vintage paperback edition of Hamilton's trilogy.

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