The Singing Detective

The published screenplay of The Singing Detective is dated 1986. Dennis Potter’s masterpiece is approaching its 20th birthday. When one views again the TV series which stars the excellent talent of Michael Gambon as Philip Marlow, one feels truly humbled, as this was and is television at its finest. Re-released on two DVDs (and an additional CD with “extras”); this three pack DVD would be a bargain at twice the price.

It is hard to fault a single performance in this chronicle of a patient emotionally, as well as physically, crippled by psoriasis. Over the six episodes of the series, the viewer is taken through a journey which reveals, through the character of Gambon’s Marlow, the ability of emotional guilt to poison a person’s life. We also come to believe that many emotional demons can be expunged over time.

There are a great many fine performances over the six episodes of The Singing Detective and although one attempts to acknowledge as many as possible, there will be omissions for which I apologise in advance.

Michael Gambon’s genius has been cited above but both Janet Suzman as wife and Alison Steadman as mother of Marlow, exhibit extraordinary performances.

Patrick Malahide also is outstanding in his performances as Mark Binney/Finney/Raymond respectively.

For special mention are: Bill Paterson (as the “shrink”), David Ryall, Gerald Horan and Imelda Staunton. All of these actors and their characters make the hospital ward both a place of conflict while ironically also, a place of forced passivity.

Last of all, Kate McKenzie creates a superb portrayal of a stereotypical WWII Russian spy. The air of mystery she exudes transcends dialogue. Janet Henfrey plays a totally detestable and manipulative schoolteacher with aplomb. Finally, it would be remiss not to cite Lyndon Davies (Marlow as a child) whose youthful insecurity and confusion with his place in the world, leads him to commit a wanton act of malice.

The major DVD extra is a commentary on the whole series by Jon Amiel (director) and Kenith Trod (producer).

I have to confess an absolute love of this brilliant series and both the fine performances and the excellent Dennis Potter script which the series follows. If you have never seen The Singing Detective, take 6 plus hours out of your busy routine, turn on the DVD and enter the world of Philip Marlow. I guarantee that it will be a world that you will revisit many times.