The Return of Minder


Shane Richie as Archie Daley on Channel Five

It’s been all over the UK press recently that Minder, the classic 70s and 80s TV series starring George Cole as Arthur Daley and Dennis Waterman as Terry, is making a comeback.

Only this time we have Shane Richie as Arthur’s nephew Archie and Lex Shrapnel as his minder, Jamie.

I wrote a while back that I grew up watching Minder, at least in its latter years, and I loved its brilliant mix of drama and humour set among the seedy backstreets of London.

Even in its final few years, when Terry went to Australia, to be replaced by Gary Webster as Arthur’s nephew Ray, I would tune in to see what scam was being perpetrated this week.

A few years back I picked up the first series on Australian DVD, complete with a couple of George Cole commentaries, and admired the grit of the series and the clever plots, as well as the interaction between the leads.

Sadly it all ended in 1994, Arthur hanging his hat up for good and perhaps spending a few more evenings with ‘er indoors as he grew old disgracefully.

I have mixed feelings about the new show, even though I’ve not seen it yet (it’s due to start in February I believe). A review on the Guardian website this week was pretty evenhanded about the first episode, though they couldn’t quite work out who the audience is going to be for the series: the fans will think it’s a bad idea while the kids won’t think its cool enough.

I’ve read that the Winchester Club will make an appearance and it would be great to see the return of Arthur for a one-off appearance, or even Mr Chisholm (Patrick Malahide).

The makers have said they’d love to get Waterman or Cole back for series two, but we’ll have to wait and see whether this can run for as many years as the original or if it’ll be a flash in the pan. I truly hope this can do some justice to the classic series and that they don’t spoil the memory.

I’ll add a review to the blog following the first episode, in the meantime here’s a short trailer for Channel Five with some Minder clips followed by the revamped theme tune from Glasgow band the Attic Lights – I really hope that Richie’s annoying tie straightening gimmick seen in the music video isn’t going to be his “trademark” in the series:

Photo copyright Channel Five


James Garner: Legend of the West

James Garner. That’s the answer I always give when asked who my favourite actor is. Recently I had to try and justify this to someone who seemed to have some pretty major Garner prejudice.

James Garner as Jim Rockford

James Garner as Jim Rockford

Although I like my films and telly, I do try to steer discussion onto other topics when meeting new people, at least for a while. On this occasion I mentioned James Garner, only to be told I was wrong.

While trying not to appear too bothered with this slur, I felt I had to defend his honour in his absence. I like to think I did alright, even after a few Jack Daniels and cokes, but it left me thinking more needs to be done to raise the profile of America’s finest.

So I’ve dug out an article I put together last year for a film course I took (written just after watching The Americanization of Emily) and, before that, here’s what I said about Jimbo back in this blog’s first post:

The blog is dedicated to Mr James Garner: Bret Maverick in Maverick, The Scrounger in The Great Escape and LAs finest, Jim Rockford PI in The Rockford Files.

His work and style epitomise everything I like in my entertainment. Heroes that aren’t black or white, but black and grey. Characters that would rather talk their way out of a situation than fight (who would have the guts to fight someone with a gun in real life? A Garner character would rather leg it). Humour that is understated rather than puerile or OTT. And a bit of realism in amongst the nonsense makes for good entertainment.

And now the article…

James Garner: Legend of the West

For the lowly television actor, the road to movie stardom is one littered with casualties. For every Bruce Willis there’s a David Caruso, for every George Clooney a Matt Le Blanc.

TV audiences will happily sit down each week to watch their favourite show/actor/actress, so why should they pay money to go to the cinema to see them in their latest artistic endeavour? For James Garner, the road has been something of a hazardous one.

In 1956, Hollywood screenwriter Roy Huggins was working on an episode of anthology series Conflict. Huggins was in the stages of planning a new TV series, a Western different to the then-current glut of cowboy series. But he lacked a leading man.

While casting for Conflict, Huggins saw a new young actor in action, one James Scott Bumgarner. As Huggins remembers, “I really had stumbled on something wonderful, the rarest thing there is in Hollywood: an actor with an unerring instinct for a funny line.” That actor would soon change his name to James Garner.

Birth of a Maverick

Born in Norman, Oklahoma on 7 April, 1928, Bumgarner had served in the Army in the Korean War. Injured and awarded the Purple Heart, he ended up in Los Angeles, taking supporting roles in a host of TV shows and commercials. At 6’1”, dark haired and with a knowing glint in his eye, he was prime leading-man material.

Support your Local SheriffCollaboration between Huggins and Garner led to the creation of the both the role and the character type that would define the actor’s career: Bret Maverick, reluctant hero and gentle grafter.

Maverick brought something new to the Western genre: humour. The series divided its episodes between Garner’s character and his brother Bart, played by Jack Kelly. It soon became clear that Garner’s episodes were the more popular with audiences, his easy-going charm and laconic delivery of lines making him a primetime star. Then the movie people came calling.

During summer filming breaks, Garner started to make his mark as a leading man. Roles in Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960) were diverse enough to show Garner’s action-hero and romantic lead credentials, while the 1960s saw Garner’s film career take off.

He was soon being offered scripts for a series of high profile pictures, including The Children’s Hour (1961), a complete tonal shift from most of his other work, The Thrill of it All (1963), second-billing to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Support your Local Sheriff (1969).

At home on the Range

Most of these films allowed Garner to hone the characterisation of the relaxed, combat-shy Everyman, who’s idea of living an easy life is interrupted by events around him. While Robert De Niro may eschew the virtues of method acting, the ability to sustain a note perfect, reliable and audience-friendly character through each of his movies meant that Garner was seen as a safe pair of hands.

If the 1960s were a golden period in Garner’s film career, the 1970s brought new demands. Ironically, it was one of Garner’s friends and TV contemporaries, Clint Eastwood, who would help define the era in such films as A Fistful of Dollars (1954) and Dirty Harry (1971). Garner tried gamely to respond to this with A Man Called Sledge in 1970, a spaghetti western in which he played against type.

His own production company helped him develop more personal films, such as Skin Game (1971). It was as a cowboy that Garner had made his mark, and a cowboy it seemed he would remain. He returned to TV briefly in semi-western Nicholls (1971-1972), which bombed with viewers and critics, before making some little-remembered movies that didn’t appear to tax him.

Saviour came in 1974 from an old collaborator, in the shape of Maverick’s Roy Huggins who, had decided to do for the detective series what Maverick had done for Westerns. The Rockford Files brought something new to the genre of private eyes, and was to all intents an updating of Garner’s previous persona for a new generation. This return to the small screen would revive his career once again.

Moving on

Maverick (1994)Garner was once quoted as saying, “When I left Rockford in 1980 I decided I want to do films that have interesting characters, people with human emotions and feelings and I’ve been very fortunate to do that.” This seems to sum up much of his film career post-Rockford.

Cinema beckoned again with films such as Victor Victoria (1982) and Murphy’s Romance (1985), for which he was Oscar-nominated. He would go on to produce some of his most interesting performances in a number of acclaimed TV movies for which he was Emmy nominated, such as My Name is Bill W (1989) and Barbarians at the Gate (1993).

An appearance in the movie version of Maverick (1993) could be seen as something of a closure for the Maverick character, a dovetailing of his TV and film careers.

While it’s fair to say that Garner never had the cinematic draw of Clint Eastwood, his failure to break into the Hollywood A-list often attributed to his ‘safe’ persona that lacked the edge offered by contemporaries such as Steve McQueen, his presence has always been a sign of quality.

More recent appearances in films such as Space Cowboys (2001), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) and The Notebook (2004) have cemented his position as a respectable, dependable actor from old-Hollywood. His return to primetime television in family comedy Eight Simple Rules in 2004 showed that the small screen wouldn’t let him go and that perhaps that’s just the way he likes it.

To finish off, here’s a decent little interview with Jim on the Charlie Rose show from 2002:

The Street: Series Two, Episode Two

Timothy Spall, copyright BBCClaiming that British drama is is currently in the doldrums is something I’ve been guilty of recently.

It’s often difficult to compare favourably the high quality American series that come back year-after-year (after year) for runs of six months at a time with the fare offered up by British broadcasters. Ongoing drama tends to mean the soaps, propping up the schedules that are otherwise chock full of “Reality” series.

So it’s refreshing to see BBC One have brought back Jimmy McGovern’s The Street for a second series. Last week’s episode was a cracking start to the series, as David Thewlis (co-star of one of my favourite series, A Bit of a Do, with David Jason in 1989) played identical twin brothers, both living in the titular street.

Tonight’s episode starred another icon of 80s television, Timothy Spall (Brummie Barry in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) as Eddie. A chain of events are set in motion within the first 10 minutes that would be funny if they weren’t so tragic.

Alongside Spall was Ger Ryan as wife Margie who finds a lump while in the shower. The dawning realisation that her life could soon be filled with chemotherapy and pity from her peers is portrayed with both deep emotion and stunning direction: a dream sequence on the bus, as other passengers told their stories of living with cancer, was captivating.

And as the characters in this episode go through their story they briefly mingle with characters from other episodes who will take centre stage in future weeks.

I hope the ratings are as high as they deserve to be and that season three is commissioned soon. Either that or Tim Spall gets his own show…it’s been a while since Frank Stubbs Promotes.

Happy Birthday Channel Four!

In the week of celebrations for Channel Four I’ll add my congrats here.

As the first real UK TV channel to launch in my lifetime (Channel Five and a million digital channels appeared much later) I can hardly remember a time it wasn’t out of my personal viewing schedule or the papers.

I can remember watching Brookside with my mum and that it was a world away from the cosier Coronation Street on the other side. Max Headroom was plain weird and The Crystal Maze was a revelation compared to the likes of the Krypton Factor or Mastermind.

Then, just as Nintendo and Sega were taking over the world, GamesMaster appeared with Dominik Diamond and Patrick Moore. This was cult viewing in my school, certainly amongst the geekier elements.

Vic Reeves Big Night Out was also required viewing in the early 90s, though I don’t remember being a huge fan – it was more a case of being uncool if you missed it. The Word was very risky, needing to be watched in your room on the portable telly.

And mornings weren’t complete without The Big Breakfast. Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and TFI Friday were the natural progression.

There are loads more series that stick in my mind: Nightingales, the TV Heaven season, Sean’s Show, Whose Line is it Anyway?, Chance in a Million, Brass Eye…

But the one that probably remains with me most depicts the misadventures of three priests off the coast of Ireland. A true classic (a word I’ve been told I use too much, but this time I think a few million others agree) and the death of Dermot Morgan at the end of series three was truly a tragedy. In memory of Ted Crilly, here’s just one clip out of too many I could have chosen from Father Ted. You’ll enjoy it…ah you will, you will, you will…

The Summer Of British Film

Summer of British FilmGood old BBC2. Just when Summer telly is looking dire, with endless episodes of B*g B*****r (I can’t bear to say, let alone write about a certain ‘reality’ TV show), along comes The Summer of British Film to restore the faith.

Following an interview with BBC2 Controller Roly Keating on the latest Observer Film Weekly podcast, where he was very enthusiastic about the season, I’m really looking forward to this.

Every week, starting on Saturday 28 July, there’ll be a new documentary in the British Film Forever series covering 100 years of British film. Episodes are split into genres:

  • Thriller
  • Romance
  • Social Realism
  • Costume Drama
  • Horror
  • War
  • Comedy

Best of all, to accompany the documentaries, BBC2 will also be screening around 60 films from the last 100 years.

I’m now off to finally invest in a DVD Recorder to make the most out the season.

Rona Munro talk

Rona MunroToday I made my way along to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh to hear a talk by Rona Munro. She’s a prize-winning Scottish writer who has written for radio, television (she wrote the last Classic Doctor Who story, Survival, back in 1989) and films, most notably Ladybird, Ladybird.

In her role as Senior Playwriting Fellow at the Trav, she held a masterclass in Surviving Film and Television. While I did want to hear what she had to say about her experience in the world of fim and telly, I also had an ulterior motive for attending…more of which later…

The event took place deep in the bowels of the theatre with a chair, table and glass of water waiting for Ms Munro. There were only about 20 of us in the audience, and it started pretty much on time.

She explained that she had information prepared but that she’d probably divert from this substantially. She then ran through her own background in the business (reminding that it is just that – a business) with a few milestones such as Doctor Who and the process of having her film script bought and made given a bit more detail.

A few points that stood out for me were:

  • love what you write – don’t write without passion
  • give your work status – set aside a time and place to write
  • get something out there, be it a radio play, theatre script, short story

There was more, but a lot of it was common sense. She had some strong words about the way that writers are treated by producers and hates (make that HATES) the trend for treatments being needed for anything to get commissioned.

All in all a fascinating hour-and-a-half in the company of a highly respected, funny and self deprecating woman.

And my ulterior motive for going along? Well, I remember watching that Doctor Who story in my bedroom when it first aired back in 1989. It was winter, it was dark outside, it was scary. So I asked Rona to sign my Survival DVD cover, thinking I’d be thrown out by security.

But she kindly agreed and had good memories of the show and her time working on it. Then I had to leave…somewhere my tea was getting cold…

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.If you’re looking for a Western/sci-fi/comedy/action cult TV series, you could do a lot worse than The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Set in the Wild West of the 1890s, Bruce Campbell stars as the titular Brisco, a Harvard educated lawyer turned bounty hunter following the murder of his father by the John Bly gang.

Running for only one season in 1993, Brisco merged elements of Indiana Jones (the series was co-created by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade screenwriter Jeffrey Boam), 1930s Saturday Matinee serials, the 1960s TV series The Wild Wild West and The X Files, to create a bizarre world of its own.

Most of the 27 episodes follow Brisco, his “partner” Lord Bowler (Julius Clary) and sidekick Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson) as they try to round up the Bly gang. They occasionally sidestep this hunt to take on other adventures, giving a nice bit of variety as the series goes on.

Watching so many episodes in a row on DVD makes you appreciate how much effort went into making the show – it’s packed full of stunts, jokes and one-liners that keep the stories ploughing ahead full steam (or rocket if Professor Wickwire (John Astin) is involved) while the sc-fi elements are never too OTT to divert from the Western themes.

Bruce Campbell is a fantastic lead and it’s a real shame it was never commissioned for a second series. So get on the trail for a copy of this set, get those six-shooters ready and saddle up…or at least stick it in the DVD player and enjoy a few hours of great telly.

Oz: Season 1

Oz Season 1 DVDI’ve had a hard week. Arson, suicide, drug abuse, a prison riot and a few Nazis were involved, and the sight of a charred body put me off my tea last Monday.

If you lived in the UK between 1998 and 2005, and happened to be watching Channel 4 between around 11pm and 4am, there’s a chance you caught an episode of HBOs Oz. Considering that even dedicated fans had trouble tracking the series down from one week to the next, you did well.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching the Season 1 DVDs, eight hour-long episodes introducing Emerald City, an experimental unit of the Oswald Maximum Security Prison, or Oz. Here, rehabilitation is the aim, with Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) trying valiantly to maintain calm between the various factions – Latinos, Muslims, Aryans – that inhabit Em City.

Oz is hard going, partly because of the violence which permeates throughout each episode but also because of the complex allegiances created and destroyed every week. The writing is simply stunning, and what makes it even more remarkable is that one writer, Tom Fontana, was the scribe behind them all.

The cast are note perfect. Beecher (Lee Tergesen) is our eyes for the first few episodes, as his life falls apart following his incarceration, while JK Simmons as Schillinger is a character for whom the term ‘evil’ could apply if this wan’t too easy a label.

For something outside the norm, and the fact that you don’t now have to wait until after midnight to watch it, these DVDs can’t be faulted. Just don’t eat your tea while it’s on.

Children’s TV on Trial

Following tonight’s episode of Smiley’s People (an oasis in the desert of dross on offer, though how I avoided ITV1’s Teen Boob Jobs: Too Much Too Young I don’t know) there was a lovely little trail for an upcoming week of programming from BBC4, Children’s TV on Trial.

As it says on the website:

“…a nightly look at each decade of the genre from the 50s to the present day – today’s youngsters will be delivering their verdict on the shows their parents or grandparents used to watch. There’ll be programmes about Blue Peter, Grange Hill, Jackanory and Saturday morning TV, and other highlights include When the Stranglers Met Roland Rat, an eye-popping look at some of the incongruously adult pop stars who have strutted their stuff on shows supposedly made for children.”

Sounds like a great week for vintage telly then. Unless ITV come up with something original that is…

Holding On

Holding OnBack in 1997 I remember watching the first episode of Holding On on BBC One. It’s only taken me 10 years to watch episodes 2 – 8.

Following the tangled lives of a group of Londoners over the period of around a year or so – moving from one scene to the next can move the plot on 5 minutes or 5 weeks and it’s never entirely clear which one is which – Tony Marchant’s series is both engaging and infuriating at the same time.

While the performances can’t be faulted, with the brilliant David Morrissey on top form and Phil Daniels making a meal out of every scene he’s in, the sheer length of time it takes to get to the end of the series can seem a bit of a slog.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience. Watching the plot(s) unfold and trying to work out how everything connects together is a rewarding, and being able to view the episodes back-to-back does help you reach that stunning conclusion that bit faster.

A fine series that I wish I’d stuck with back in ’97.

Hamish Macbeth

“We are entrepreneurs Lachie Jnr: what care we for the EEC?” Lachie Snr to Lachie Jnr

Filicide. Cannibalism. Substance abuse. Domestic violence. Robbery. Poaching. All at 7.15pm on a Sunday evening.

Hamish Macbeth

Robert Carlyle as Hamish

I’ll put that list into some context: following my interview with Barbara Rafferty I decided to rewatch episode one of Hamish Macbeth, ‘The Great Lochdubh Salt Robbery’. It introduces the village of Lochdubh, located somewhere on the West Coast of Scotland, where the titular local policeman tries to keep order in his own, unique, style.

Before it started the Radio Times called the series “quirky”, which is perhaps too easy a label for something as multi-layered as this.

As well as the playing out of a clever whodunnit, surely the raison d’être for any police drama, we are also introduced to the glorious cast who make up this ensemble piece. It’s near impossible to pick anyone as stealing the show here, although the McCrae’s do get most of the best lines (as they would continue to over the next three years).

So it’s kudos to Robert Carlyle himself for holding it all together as the Northern Constabulary’s finest, staying just on the right side of believability as the mad goings on of Lochdubh conspire to make his idyllic life just that little bit busier.

And I’ll say it again: all at 7.15pm on a Sunday night on BBC1. Of course, it was the clever nature of the script that let them get away with it all – nothing bloodthirsty, graphic or gory about this episode, just the dawning realisation that the entire village has been eating…well that would spoil the surprise.

Special mention should go to John Grieve, in one of his last TV roles before his death in 2001. A star of stage and screen for over 50 years, it was as the canny shipman Dan MacPhail in BBC Scotland’s other enduring, yet sadly increasingly forgotton, hit series the Vital Spark in the 1970s that brought him his greatest fame. His final, lopsided, run after Alice’s car is as sad an ending as you would expect.

Twelve years on and I’m still not sure BBC Scotland has bettered Hamish. I’m now going to have to rewatch the rest of the series to fully remind myself why!

Barbara Rafferty Interview Part Two

Hamish DVD SignedFollowing part one of my two part interview with Barbara Rafferty she discusses Hamish Macbeth and The Last King of Scotland.

Hamish Macbeth

While still making Nesbitt, Barbara became part of another major Scottish export with the role of Agnes Meldrum in BBC Scotland’s Hamish Macbeth. Hamish wasn’t like other ‘cops on the box’, defying easy pigeonholing. With a first episode containing filicide, domestic violence and substance abuse, cosy teatime drama this was not.

“It was dark,” she agrees, her eyes lighting up, “and one of the best jobs ever. These fun, quirky scripts would come in from Danny Boyle, and we had some great guest actors like John Grieve and Andrew Keir”.

“At the start, the female characters were a bit underwritten, but that changed as we went on. In one episode my long-lost son turned up, played by Alistair Mackenzie [later of Monarch of the Glen], and the women had a lot more to do.

“We were hoping to sell the series to America, but they wouldn’t buy it because of the [cannabis] smoking.”.

I mention the Wild West theme of the series, most noticeable in the title sequence (sheriff’s badge and gun) and in Hamish’s love of pulp-Western novellas.

“That’s exactly how the series was set up, about the Wild West [of Scotland] – the locals were a law unto themselves. All those undercurrents were there. And I think it could have got darker. I think the BBC were a bit scared at just how dark Danny wanted to make it, so they brought in the other writers to balance it out. They were all good, but Danny had that darkness…”.

The series came to an abrupt end after three years when Robert Carlyle moved on to film roles new, but had things gone differently, the show may have lived on…

“For a long time there was talk of carrying on the series with the locals, like they did with Ballykissangel. People lived in hope for a long time, but nothing ever came of it”.

The Last King of Scotland

Now a full time cast member of Scotland’s only primetime soap, River City, Barbara is allowed time off to appear in other projects. Most recently this has included the role of James McAvoy’s mum in the Oscar and BAFTA award-winning Last King of Scotland.

“It was great to do. I first saw James McAvoy in Privates on Parade in London, where he was terribly pukka, and it was only afterwards that I realised he was Scottish. He was lovely to work with, and of course he’s a big Ella fan, and his gran is a River City fan, so they all came to say hello!”

“The producer, Andrea Calderwood, who also produced Hamish, tried so hard to get that film of the ground, and look what’s happened now…” she says, referring to its award success.

Then there’s her current role as the Baroness in the Edinburgh production of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.

“I went to London for the audition, sang my song, and told the director I looked great in a basque!”.

With thanks to Barbara Rafferty.

Barbara Rafferty Interview Part One

A few of these first blog entries mention the film journalism course I’ve enrolled on at the University of Edinburgh.

It’s a whistlestop tour of the profession, and ties together my two main interests/passions: film and writing. After 11 weeks it’ll be over, but hopefully one of the areas I can do more with is the interviewing. To kick it off I had the privilege to interview Barbara Rafferty.

As a star of Rab C Nesbitt, Hamish Macbeth, River City and the Oscar nominated The Last King of Scotland, there was a lot to ask her about in a short space of time. Hopefully it gives a flavour of her work for the uninitiated…

Interview (Part One)

For Barbara Rafferty, one of Scotland’s most respected stage and screen actors, the desire to entertain started early. “My mother tells the story that I was at a wedding, aged 2 and a half, and there was a Soprano singing,” she says, smiling at the memory, “I joined in and got a laugh”.

Born in Glasgow and raised in Clydebank, early roles in series such as BBC Scotland’s ‘This Man Craig’ led to a part in one of the most fondly remembered British Horror films, The Wicker Man.

“I think I got the job because I’d had a baby and was breastfeeding, and that was the character – right place, right time!” says Barbara, “I was on location for over a month, living in a fabulous hotel with a wee baby”. Star Edward Woodward was “charming, absolutely lovely” and played a mean pretend trumpet, while around them chaos ensued.

“It was a mess. One of the actors punched the director then the director left. Things weren’t getting done on time…”she pauses for a second, “I remember Brit Ekland stayed in a trailer on-set and she looked beautiful, really stunning, first thing in the morning”.

After a few years off to raise her children, and appearances in seminal Scottish series such as Tutti Frutti and Taggart alongside theatre work, her first major TV role came in 1989 with the arrival of Rab C Nesbitt on BBC2. “Iconoclastic” is how Barbara refers to the show.

It was Mary Doll herself, Elaine C Smith, who recommended Barbara for the role of Ella Cotter. “I’d seen it first as a sketch on Naked Video and though it was fabulous, and Gregor [Fisher] is a fabulous actor. I walked in, read the script and thought ‘I know her, I know this type of woman’. I did a readthrough with Tony Roper, and Colin [Gilbert, the director] said ‘book her’!”.

Asked to explain the reason for the series success, she thinks for a moment before answering: “Rab is the story of Everyman, this downtrodden guy. It’s just so funny.” Would she play the part again in the rumoured revival? “Yes,” she says, without hesitation “as long as the scripts are as good as they were. I wouldn’t want to spoil the memory”.

In Barbara Rafferty Interview Part Two, we discuss her role in BBC Scotland’s Hamish Macbeth and the Oscar-winning Last King of Scotland.

Sean Connery in The Hill

This weekend, as part of my Monday night film journalism course, I had to write a review of a Jean Moreau interview with Mark Cousins from a few years back.

I then decided to dig out my off-air VHS of Sean Connery’s Scene by Scene with Cousins from 1997. Taking place in the interviewer’s Edinburgh flat, Connery seemed at ease with the whole thing. Clips of his first Hollywood venture, Derby O’Gill and the Little People, brought a smile to his face and memories of having to memorise a song on the morning of filming.

Some scenes from Sidney Lumet’s The Hill were also shown, which Connery believes is his best film (sadly no clips were show from his other Lumet collaboration, the harrowing The Offence). Luckily BBC2 screened The Hill the same night as the interview, so I left it playing…

The film takes place in a World War II British disciplinary camp in the Libyan desert. Trooper Joe Roberts (Connery) is sent to the camp for disobeying orders and attacking his superior officer. He arrives to find a camp terrorised by Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry), with soldiers being made to run up and down the titular hill in the blazing sun.

I’ve watched The Hill a dozen or so times over the years, and every time it seems as fresh as the first. Made at the time of Bondmania, when Connery was more used to wearing a tuxedo than a beret, the film stands as evidence to naysayers who claim Edinburgh’s finest export cannae act. Watching him here, making sly comments to Williams while on parade, rounding on his cellmates or going head-to-head with the officers, is electrifying.

Another superb performance comes from Ian Bannen as Staff Sgt. Charlie Harris, the only compassionate officer in the camp. His anguished performance stands out from the others and I can’t quite decide whether he or Connery steal the most scenes.

With no music, it’s left to the actors and the director to set the tone for each scene. Watching each man try to cope with his surroundings is harrowing, not a word I’d use for many films (though the site of Connery in that nappie in Zardoz comes close). And that final scene…

Here’s hoping BBC4 repeat the Scene by Scene’s sometime soon.

Updated 21/01/08

I’ve just added a trailer for the film from YouTube.