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This Town, BBC One review - lurid melodrama in Eighties Brummieland | reviews, news & interviews

This Town, BBC One review - lurid melodrama in Eighties Brummieland

This Town, BBC One review - lurid melodrama in Eighties Brummieland

Steven Knight revisits his Midlands roots, with implausible consequences

Ben Rose as Bardon Quinn, with Levi Brown as Dante Williams

Industrious screenwriter Steven Knight has brought us (among many other things) Peaky Blinders, SAS: Rogue Heroes and even Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, but This Town may not be remembered as one of his finest hours. Here, we find Knight revisiting his Midlands background for a story that begins in 1981, during Margaret Thatcher’s first term as Prime Minister.

There’s rioting on the streets, unemployment is soaring and Bobby Sands is on hunger strike in Belfast. Ska and Two Tone music are all the rage, and the soundtrack is littered with old faves like “The Tide is High”, “Pressure Drop”, “You Can Get It if You Really Want”, “Many Rivers to Cross” and lots more.

It all makes for a dramatic backdrop, but it’s difficult to get too excited about This Town’s cast of characters. For instance there’s Dante Williams (Levi Brown), a rather anti-social youth who was offered a trial at Birmingham City FC but didn’t bother to turn up. Now he goes around telling everybody he’s a poet, though the verses we hear him reciting in his head are C-grade doggerel (he may have just made it up and it rhymes, but that doesn’t make it poetry). He comes out with delightfully self-regarding nonsense like “the words come and land in my skull like a flock of pigeons on a tower block”, or “I no longer engage in any activity that pits working class people against each other.” Thus it’s a bit of surprise when, in episode two, he suddenly turns into a street-fighting man, battering sneering skinheads with a flurry of punches.

This Town is going to be the story of how Dante gets together with Jeannie (Eve Austin) and his cousin Bardon Quinn (Ben Rose) to form a band, but that rather gets blotted out by all kinds of more serious stuff. Bardon’s father Eamonn (Peter McDonald) is a key man in the local IRA battalion, and is fuelled by an exhausting mixture of permanent hatred and fury. He’s livid that Bardon is apathetic about joining the Republican cause, though he ropes the lad into a racket turning agricultural “red” diesel into normal diesel for sale on the black market, and cynically manipulates him into being implicated in a bomb plot.

Over in Belfast, Dante’s older brother Gregory (Jordan Bolger) is a sergeant in the British Army and embroiled with rioters and gunmen, though you’d think his familial connection to the IRA might have got him red flagged by the military (particularly as Special Branch are always watching Eamonn’s every move). Gregory has a curious approach to soldiering, getting out of his armoured car to listen to birds singing, and asking the terrorists who are shooting at him why they don’t sing to each other. Zany!

Still, the show does spring a couple of interesting surprises. David Dawson (pictured above), familiar to fans of The Last Kingdom for his brilliant portrayal of King Alfred, appears here as the sinister gangster and club owner Robbie Carmen, who used to employ bro’ Gregory as security (“he broke heads for me”). However, Carmen also suffers from Knight-induced grandiosity, not least in a scene involving innovative use of a severed finger. “To control a city, men like me need legends of madness,” he explains ludicrously.

There’s also a bizarre appearance by Michelle Dockery as Eamonn’s estranged, booze-and-drug-addled wife Estella (pictured above), who delivers a show-stopping turn at a family funeral where she sings “Over the Rainbow”. It’s typical of the show’s weird mix of supposedly gritty realism and overblown melodrama, as if it’s a string of bombastic self-contained scenes which don’t fit together properly.

  • Episode 2 of This Town is on BBC One on 1 April at 9pm, with succeeding episodes on Sundays. All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer

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