Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Film Review – The Gravy Train by Malcolm Bradbury

The 4oDDrama YouTube channel allows you to watch the The Gravy Train (I'm not sure how well this link will work for viewers outside the UK). This 1990 TV mini-series was written by Malcolm Bradbury and first shown on channel 4. From the first of these links you can also view the sequel series: The Gravy Train Goes East. As a YouTube movie it has not had many views: some 430 at the time of writing. And that's for episode one: only 89 bothered to see it through to the final episode four. This might give some, daunting, indication of what to expect.

Alas for Malcolm Bradbury's renown, this series is packed with clichés about foreigners, the EEC and bureaucrats. All good stuff, no doubt, for a knockabout romp. Here we have the politics of the gutter press rather then the writing of someone with the reputation of Bradbury. It's such a pity the author did not put a bit of effort into producing something better.

Christoph Waltz plays the lead as Dr. Hans-Joachim Dorfmann. Now I can see Waltz is a very good actor, and I would be happy to see him in something better, but here he just seems miscast. Waltz was, apparently, born in Vienna, Austria, even so he sounds too English, in fact all his mannerisms are too English – including that irritating pipe. Maybe this fault stems with the director or producer or maybe the character Dorfmann, as written, is not convincing; whatever it is, this character does not work. And given that the whole crux of the drama is built around this character it's a fundamental and irretrievable flaw.

Ian Richardson plays Michael Spearpoint and is the best thing in the drama. He plays the same character type as Francis Urquhart in the more successful House of Cards trilogy (1990, 1993 & 1995) and this is the acting Richardson does so well. However here the plot is sometime plain silly and so the result is less successful. The rest of the acting and production is good – so there is no need to dwell on this.

I guess some scenes are supposed to be funny, at least that's the impression I get from occasional slapstick moment and the description of this grand opus as a comedy. But the humour, such as it is, is very heavy handed. The best I could muster was an embarrassed wince, and never once managed even a knowing smile.

In an agonising moment you might want to watch it; or you might be tempted if you had a particularly masochistic aberration. Otherwise – well... don't bother.

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