Friday, December 11, 2015

Capital: not Marvellous, but certainly not bad

When I discovered that Toby Jones, Gemma Jones and writer Peter Bowker were teaming up once again, I knew it would make for more must-see TV - after all, last year's film Marvellous was just that, and received richly deserved recognition of its brilliance in the form of two BAFTAs in May.

A three-part series, Capital was adapted by Bowker from the John Lanchester novel of the same name, which has been described as Dickensian in its heftiness and preoccupation with the kaleidoscope of life in London. It followed the narrative threads of a number of disparate characters of differing ages, backgrounds and financial circumstances: an investment banker starting to see through the materialism that seemed to define his wife's whole worldview, a dying widow with an estranged daughter and a grandson who was secretly a millionaire artist, a Muslim family running the local corner shop, a Polish builder busy making hay while the sun shone in the capital's booming property market, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker forced to work illegally to keep her head above water. The only thing that bound the characters together was the fact that they lived on the same street, Pepys Road - until they all started to receive mysterious postcards bearing the threatening message "We want what you have".

Toby Jones was unsurprisingly superb as the banker slowly beginning to question the most fundamental aspects of his life, though I wasn't quite so convinced by Rachael Stirling as his wife Arabella. Despite Stirling claiming to have attempted to rein in her natural inclination to "go over the top", recognising the importance of maintaining "the naturalism throughout so you don’t completely blow the whole thing", Arabella did come across as more of a comic caricature than any of the others. Perhaps that was more down to Bowker's script, though, and in any case I've seen Capital described as a very funny novel, so her character may have been more true to the source material than the rest.

Overall, though, the adaptation felt much more like a serious drama than a comic piece, even hinting at elements of the psychological thriller at times, so Arabella stood out a bit like the proverbial sore thumb. It wasn't so much a state-of-the-nation series as a state-of-the-London-bubble series, touching on a number of very contemporary issues: the obsession with sharply rising property prices, the jumpiness with regard to security and terror threats, multicultural communities and racial tensions, immigration and asylum, anomie, inequality, envy.

One of Capital's chief virtues was that it was never quite clear which direction each of the various different narratives would take, or indeed where the series was going overall, and after the first and second instalments I was hooked. The third was, in truth, a tad disappointing and anticlimactic, in that each narrative was resolved in a way that felt a bit too neat and easy, and the anticipated revelation that somehow all of the narratives were closely interconnected never materialised. That said, perhaps that would have made for a neater, more contrived and therefore potentially even less satisfactory conclusion. Probably best to leave the scriptwriting to the professionals, to be honest.

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