War, deception, mutiny and kidnapping! So shouted the headline of a Daily Telegraph advert on 1 September 1986 promoting the upcoming BBC1 drama, The Monocled Mutineer.
Mutineer tells the story of Percy Toplis who, by the age of 17, had led an itinerant lifestyle around the country and spent two years in prison for attempted rape. His release from jail in 1914 coincided with the outbreak of the First World War and saw his enrolment in the Medical Corps. From there his gets more complicated…
Written by Alan Bleasdale (Boys from the Blackstuff, GBH) and starring Paul McGann (Withnail & I, Doctor Who), the four-part series would go on to become one of the most controversial dramas ever to be screened in the UK, bringing down a Director General in its wake.
Never repeated since its screening in 1986 but recently released on DVD, this was my first chance to see what all the fuss was about. Covering a number of years and locations, as Toplis takes on the British Army at their own game, the series rattles along at a fair old pace.
While many of the scenes appear quite leisurely, typical of 1980s drama, the constant segues from one event/time period to the next did jar slightly. The BBC wardrobe department do their bit for King and Country in various battle scenes while the music helps set the mood throughout.
McGann gives Toplis a cocky yet charming edge, easily out-acting a fine cast that includes Timothy West and Penelope Wilton. While historical accuracies can’t be verified, any dramatic licence taken pays off and Toplis remains an enigmatic and engaging main character.
While it’s still an important, entertaining and memorable series, a documentary or commentary would have been welcome to help put the series in historical context.
A more in-depth account of the problems that accompanied the series in 1986 can be found over at offthettelly.co.uk.