Saturday, 19 April 2014

Black and Blue (1992)




I miss Screen One (and Screen Two) which back in the 80s and 90s saw the BBC produce some absolute gems of stand alone TV drama. 

Some, like Truly Madly Deeply and Priest, were deemed so good that they were moved on to the cinema to enjoy another parallel life, whilst others - just as excellent - have disappeared, drifted away from schedules and collective memory, forced to languish in the BBC archives with no release on DVD.

Black and Blue was a 1992 Screen One from the pen of GF Newman, the acclaimed writer of 1978's Law and Order (not to be confused with the long running US drama or its subsequent UK spin off) a controversial look at the rife corruption within The Met and the wanton failings of the criminal justice system.

Black and Blue immerses itself in a similar set up and threatens to say something genuinely interesting from a social issue and race relations perspective, but on the whole misses its polemical target. In its story of a seemingly green young black officer from Plymouth being transferred temporarily to the capital to work undercover to find the killers of a high profile black community leader it ultimately doesn't seem sure what it wants to be; earnest and acerbic state of the nation piece about the late 80s/early 90s inherent and institutionalised racism in this country or something to rival the then rise in the neo blaxploitation genre in the US as propagated by Spike Lee? Indeed on many occasions it doesn't even feel that neo, it often resembles Shaft!

Still, it's not without its thrills or moments of high drama and a likeable sardonic wit. It's also got a great cast (though the lead, Christopher John Hall never really troubled TV/Film much after this) with many in rather minor supporting roles; blink and you'll miss David Thewlis and Tommy Flanagan both little more than extras here though at least Thewlis gets a couple of lines, then there's a few minutes of screen time for Iain Glen and Don Henderson, and more substantial, but still slight, roles for Martin Shaw and Ray Winstone. Getting the meat of the production is probably Linus Roache and David Morrissey, the beautiful Rowena King and Fraser James.

When it is at its most powerful, Black and Blue is addressing the relevant issues that was felt, at the time - the repercussions of riots in Brixton, the legacy of SUS and stop and search etc - as well as inadvertently predicting what was to come - just 6 months after Black and Blue was screened Stephen Lawrence, a young Black British man was brutally murdered at a bus stop in London because of the colour of his skin. Corruption and underhand practices made by the police at the time - including spying on the Lawrence family in the hope for some 'dirt' - is still coming to light today.

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