Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Inappropriate Behaviour (1987)
Several years ago now I read a collection of short stories by Alan Davies entitled Dirty Faxes after becoming properly acquainted and ultimately besotted with his series A Very Peculiar Practice, which is for my money one of the best examples of British television (or TV in general) in the 1980s. One of the stories in this 1990 anthology was entitled Inappropriate Behaviour and was adapted from his screenplay of the same name for a 1987 Screen Two play. Reading the notes, which explained this starred Charlotte Coleman an actress I'd always admired who died sadly very young, I realised that this play rang vague bells.
I'm not altogether sure if I saw Inappropriate Behaviour when it went out in 1987 (or in perhaps a repeat) but I do know my dad was a keen viewer of most Screen One and Screen Two productions. What I do know is it will have largely gone over my infant head.
As with the subsequent and faithful short story adaptation, Inappropriate Behaviour tells the story of the troubled 15 year old and disruptive schoolgirl Helen (Coleman) who lives on her families farm alongside her bitter and domineering father (Douglas Livingstone) simple minded mother (Rosemary Martin) and an older deeply introverted sister Shirley (Rudi Davies, the striking, sulky featured redheaded daughter of Beryl Bainbridge and Alan Sharp, who had once played Penny Lewis in Grange Hill) who has withdrawn so completely she know refuses to speak to anyone. A series of violent and misbehaved incidents at school see Helen paired up with Jo, an American and educational psychologist on secondment with the school played by Jenifer Landor. Slowly but surely Jo manages to break the ice and realises that Helen is an extremely intelligent and capable young lady with a natural affinity for the animals on the farm and takes on much of the responsibilities of running the farm herself. It becomes clear to Jo that the reasons for Helen's 'inappropriate behaviour' isn't very clearcut and goes much deeper, leading to her family life. It is Jo's belief that her antics at school are in some way a cry for help and so she reaches out to the girl by developing 'a contract' which advises teachers to turn a blind eye to some of her lesser misconduct (lateness, blunt language etc) thereby giving Helen an easier ride at school, in return for horseriding lessons for Jo on the family farm - a chance to see the family at first hand. There Jo discovers a shocking, long hidden set of motivations linked to her father and her silent sister as the reason behind Helen's behaviour, but she also discovers and is totally unprepared for the revelation of just how involved she has got with the teenager and how strong she feels for her.
Like much of Davies' original work, the themes here are academia, sex, mental health and the limitations of the education system. It's a gratifying move that may have been planned or may have been coincidence that sees Charlotte Coleman (who had previously played the titular disruptive young school girl Marmalade Atkins in Davies' children's comedy series) cast in the role of Helen, which is doubly resonant when the plot incorporates sexual feelings between her and Jo given that Coleman would go on to play the troubled young girl struggling to come to terms with her homosexuality in the BBC adaptation of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit just a few short years later.
The limitations in the practicing of the science of psychology and the then prevalent associated and non cognitive based behavioural treatments are also targeted by Davies as the assured Jo's belief that 'changes in behaviour are the only real changes people can make' is shown to ultimately be incorrect through her relationship with Helen. It is the underlying causes and the behaviour of those who impact upon Helen, namely her dysfunctional family, that truly need to be addressed (very Laingian!) Her behaviour at school may improve, but the problems at home, and therefore in Helen's life, remain untouched and therefore will lead to dangerous, calamitous consequences.
The film is well directed by Paul Seed who clearly 'gets' Andrew Davies. As a result, many of the scenes are played out with characters observing one another, which lends the piece an outsider's isolated air in keeping with Helen and her strange kin. Many shots featuring Coleman as Helen are done through windows suggesting alienation from her fellow pupils, whilst scenes with her at her happiest - teaching Jo to ride - are bookended by her sister Shirley's silent observation, signposting a character who holds the key to the whole story.
Of the cast, Coleman naturally stands out and its a pity that her fellow lead Jenifer Landor seems guilty of many flat line reads. I'm not altogether sure if its intentional or not; the character rightfully has that vaguely patronising tone to her voice that some therapists can often adopt so in some respects this is accurate for the depiction. However, there are scenes with colleagues and even with her boyfriend which see Landor deliver lines in the same rather wooden manner. But in fairness to her, once Coleman's Helen challenges her and asks to be spoken to like a real human being, Landor's performance becomes much more capable and less troublesome in every scene - so perhaps it really was intentional? If so, it's a daring but justified approach, depicting Jo as someone who has lost touch with herself and how to behave even with close friends and lovers. As Helen points out at one moment she's afraid of 'letting go'
You can watch Inappropriate Behaviour on my YouTube channel
As with a lot of these gems from the archives, this has not been given a commercial release on either VHS or DVD. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here