Monday, 20 July 2015

The Outcast (2015)

I don't know why some people (and by some people I mean of course idiots and Tories) complain about the BBC. The BBC make things like last night's The Outcast, and this is a good thing. Protect the BBC so they can bring us more of these things I say. 

Sadie Jones originally wrote The Outcast as a screenplay for a film but, when finding door after door refusing to open, she went away and wrote it as a novel instead. The novel went on to become a bestseller, winning the Costa First Novel prize and a place on the Orange Prize shortlist. Just under a decade later, her intentions for her story has come full circle with this 2 part, 3 hour long BBC adaptation which she penned herself. 

As you probably guessed from my rating and the opening para, this is the type of story that is right up my street. Set in the 1950s, a time when feelings seemed to come under rationing like everything else, its a dark and torrid psychological drama which sees passions rising from beneath the repressed, buttoned down small town post war veneer of respectability. Our hero is Lewis, a damaged individual played by George MacKay) who at the age of ten witnessed his beloved mother's (Hattie Morahan, she of the beautiful eyes) tragic accidental death by drowning. 

This trauma naturally has a profound effect on young Lewis but unfortunately he is a child in a stultifying age where they should be seen and not heard and worse, when emotions should be tamped down and ignored. Satisfyingly, Jones mirrors postwar society as a whole with this personal tragedy because, in a sense, the entire country was suffering from bereavement stresses writ large thanks to the war years, and handling it just as badly. Lewis' attempts to reach out and seek comfort are doomed to failure; his father (Greg Wise) is a cold fish he barely knew, having been robbed of him during the war, and whose answer to the bereavement is to marry in haste - wedding the younger Alice (Jessica Brown Findlay) who is ill equipped to handle the subsequent domestic disharmony which modern society would now call PTSD. There's a lovely scene in the second part that alludes to just how grief stricken his father actually is, witnessing the same hallucinations of his late wife as his son does. The tragedy being of course that he has no idea how to help himself, let alone his son and Lewis is left to flounder, seeking the Oedipal love of older woman who sense his broken state and wish to protect him, and resorting to extreme and graphic acts of self harm.

"I wanted to write about somebody in a group who everyone turns away from," Jones explains, "In the way animals turn away from an injured member of the herd" We see this with the inadequate and unfair way Lewis is handled. He needs love and comfort but he receives punishment, being pushed away until he becomes the outcast of the title, compelled to push back, harder and with damaging irrevocable consequences. The all too few moments of kindness he is shown, from the likes of Julian Wadham's village doctor and an older work colleague played by Jeff Rawle, are extremely palpable and bittersweet, displayed brilliantly by the subtle awed looks upon MacKay's otherwise solemn, stoney features. These gestures are a surprise to him, unexpected, and it's completely heartbreaking.

The Outcast boasts an accomplished cast including the likes of Wise, Brown Findlay, Morahan, Nathaniel Parker, Leanne Best (who I recently saw in Educating Rita at the Liverpool Playhouse and was blown away by) and Joely Richardson's daughter Daisy Bevan, all delivering fine performances but the real stars of the production are MacKay (of course) and Jessica Barden who provide outstanding and emotionally involving studies of two damaged and ill treated youths - each the sign of the freer more open minded time to come with the subsequent decade - both equally brave and resilient despite the cruelties placed upon them. Barden in particular is very impressive here, the diminutive elfin actress is 22 now but plays the character from the ages of 12 to 16 here, her effectiveness with such a challenge reminding me of the late Charlotte Coleman, who would play juvenile roles well into her twenties. Hopefully we'll be seeing more prominent parts for her to come.

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