Saturday, 27 December 2014

That Day We Sang (2014)

Boxing Day primetime TV; BBC1 had the network television premiere of the hugely successful Marvel's Avengers Assemble, which sees a gang of superhero comic book legends joining forces to save the world, whilst BBC2 had Victoria Wood's musical comedy drama That Day We Sang which was about two middle aged former choristers falling in love in 1969 Manchester.

No prizes for guessing which one I watched.

As a Victoria Wood fan and proud Lancastrian, I was as happy as a pig in sherbet to watch this sweetly told delight. Adapted from Wood's own stageplay from the Manchester Festival, That Day We Sang is the story of the Manchester Children’s Choir and their recording, in 1929, of ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ alongside the Halle Orchestra. As a girl in the mid 70s, Wood saw a TV documentary film which reunited the former choir and was struck by how sad the now middle-aged Mancunians looked. For her, they represented ordinary people who had a brief moment to shine in the sun before settling back down to the everyday and missing the boat completely. Some forty or so years after the TV documentary, Wood used her playwright skills to tell a fictionalised story about the choir, focusing solely on two members; Tubby and Enid, played by West End musical legend Michael Ball and the great Imelda Staunton. Capitalising on that sense of mundanity and melancholia in Manchester she felt as a girl, Wood depicts the lives of two loners who feel they both haven’t lived up to the potential they had during the recording. 

The real Manchester Children's Choir and the Halle Orchestra on the day of the recording of Nymphs and Shepherds, Manchester Free Trade Hall 1929

The film is set in two specific times; 1929, the time of the recording and 1969, when Tubby and Enid are reunited after forty years apart. Wood's script is a fine mixture of humour and pathos with musical interludes akin to the finest from the golden age of Hollywood (or akin to Dennis Potter's classics, given that they were played out on cobbled streets by distinctly unHollywood looking performers) but with distinctly parochial humdrum and humourous references; one particular song details the 'delights' of the then faddy 60s dining chain, The Berni Inn (“It’s wrong to brag / It’s just cake in drag / But it’s g√Ęteau at the Berni Inn”) and Wood continues to delight in pricking the pompousity of the snobbish middle classes here with characters portrayed by Conleth Hill and Sophie Thompson (her second appearance on TV this Christmas, having been in The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm on Christmas Eve too).

It's Ball and Staunton's show though and they're perfectly cast as two lonely middle aged people who life has passed by. Their chemistry together is very strong (perhaps as a result of previously working together on stage in Sweeney Todd) and they're both very complimentary of one another. Staunton, as the more accomplished dramatic actress could have dwarfed Ball for example, but she does not and the endearing quiet dignity beneath the genial facade he brings to the part of Tubby made me hope he consider more TV roles in future. It’s especially great to see Ball on the small screen and I felt that he brought a quiet dignity to the role of Tubby; a man who was outwardly charismatic but on the other hand was terribly lonely. The 1929 scenes also featured fine turns from Lyndsey Marshal as Jimmy’s mother and Daniel Rigby as teacher Mr Kirby who in WWI ''lost a leg to a sniper on Vimy Ridge'', whilst in 1969 Staunton was wonderfully accompanied by the lovely Jessica Gunning who is set for national treasure status one day you mark my words. It was good to see two of Pride's tremendous young talents on the small screen this festive period; Gunning here and Faye Marsay stealing the show in Doctor Who on Christmas Day. Not forgetting Staunton herself starred in that incredible film too.

Possibly the best festive offering this year, That Day We Sang was a real crowd pleaser - unless you've a heart of stone that is! - and as Staunton said, it's proof that stories happen to real people over the age of 25 too.


  1. Great comments I loved it too, (as well as the often repeated Victoria Wood shows which are endlessly inventive, funny and re-watchable). Ball isn't usually so large, maybe they bulked him up? Also fabulous on Boxing day, and worth tracking down on IPlayer, is the latest adaptation of a David Walliams book: The Boy In The Dress, this too was captivating, slyly funny and a real charmer with great cast. I loved it.

    1. I've always found Ball's weight to fluctuate to quite large proportions. Catching him plugging this on stuff like The One Show saw him looking just as chunky to my eyes. Course his goatee usually helps hide the chins ;)

      I'm afraid I have something of an allergic reaction to David Walliams so deliberately gave that a miss.