Monday, 2 February 2015
Christine is a 1987 BBC film from the Screenplay banner written by director Alan Clarke and Arthur Ellis, and their collective approach to the issues of drug use is one that is radically different from one most viewers will be accustomed to. The titular character (played by Vicky Murdock) is a young teenage girl with an obviously sympathetic and caring nature but also a debilitating drug habit. As Clarke trails her with his trademark and groundbreaking use of Steadicam we observe not the drama of addiction, nor the glamourisation some films carelessly and reprehensibly assign to the subject matter, but the sheer mundanity of a life that relies on one fix after another.
The lack of glamour is key here; as Arthur Ellis said in the Arena tribute to Clarke following his untimely death, a Hollywood drug movie sends out mixed messages intentionally or not. They want to portray the horrors and the illegality of narcotics but they inevitably cast a glamourous 'hero' to portray the addiction (he cites someone like Michael J Fox in his example which may date the discussion but the crux of it remains regrettably timeless) They make drugs and drug taking in particular sexy. Tellingly, Clarke's film deliberately shies away from the close ups of characters shooting up and instead focuses on the act of simply getting the drug - the endless march of Christine from house to house. The character of Christine and her friends are clearly the disengaged youth of Thatcher's Britain, unemployed and with little chance of changing that prospect, they are left to their own devices in the daytime of deserted suburbia, captured in a hinterland of their childhood and a stalled adulthood they exist in because they haven't the employment or career options the previous generation enjoyed. It is this that is depicted quite brilliantly and tragically in the suitably vacuous closing scenes of the film; Christine sat watching Paddington Bear on the TV.
As with Contact, reviewed yesterday, Christine come sat a time when Clarke was experimenting with paring down the traditional structures of drama to get to the true heart of the matter. As a result it could be argued that nothing happens in Christine and I can understand how frustrating that may be for some audiences. But for me, the lack of activity is clearly the point as Clarke and Ellis purposefully show the drab and boring, stultifying existence and that crucially, that no one gets hurt - a trope that would normally occur in any drug movie. But this lack of harm is clearly only a fluke and the pattern of behaviour suggests that ultimately someone will be, but not today. This is just a few days in the life of a drug addict and it isn't glamourous, it isn't pretty and it isn't sexy. It's just the truth. And that's the point.
This single drama remains unavailable on DVD and can only be watched on YouTube. It's rather ridiculous that one of the UK's finest directors has so much of his work underappreciated/little screened.
To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic TV plays please sign the petition I started here