Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

This year darkness seems to be the keyword for some of our best drama offerings on TV: from Agatha Christie: The Witness for the Prosecution:cast-of-the-witness-to-the-prosecution

through Jonathan Creek: Daemons’ Roost;alan-davis-as-jonathan-creek

Sherlock in The Six Thatchers.benedict-cumberbatch-as-sherlock and the Bronte Family in To Walk Invisible.
the-3-bronte-sisters-in-to-walk-invisible

In Sherlock we discovered that Death had an appointment – with Mary Watson in the London Aquarium. Maybe London is Sherlock’s city and he knows the turf. But he was still unable to keep Mary safe, as he had promised. In the Agatha Christie drama, we were drawn in to the personal tragedy of a detective who was finally outwitted by the criminal; in Jonathan Creek we saw our lovable main character largely responsible for the horrific death of a villain; and in To Walk Invisible we were shown a tough and bristly Emily, a Branwell totally lacking in inner resources when things go wrong, a bossy and controlling Charlotte and a rather ineffectual Anne: and all of them powerless against tidal waves of blind misfortune.

I read in an interview with Toby Jones (star of the Agatha Christie episode, and also due to appear as the next villain in Sherlock) that Ten or twenty years ago, Poirot and Miss Marple were cutting edge. But the viewer’s brain processes genre faster now.

I feel this sums up well the challenge facing today’s TV drama writers, screenwriters and novelists.  We can no longer get away with anything that approaches transparency or simplicity in plotting or tone or characterisation; especially if we write crime, suspense or thrillers, we have to be at least two or three steps ahead of the viewer / reader. For us, “the game” of which Sherlock speaks has to be the game we play with the reader’s expectations, which are now razor-sharp. In our books we can only get away with characters like Mrs Hudson saying things like “I’ll just go and make a nice cup of tea shall I?” if there is some kind of double or even triple irony bound up in the package of words and character and context.

Against all this perhaps, the Outnumbered Christmas Special was refreshingly light, unless you count the darkness of 1) being led astray by a mischievous old man, now deceased, to travel a long distance to scatter his ashes in a random beauty spot 2) the abrupt discovery that your son plans to disappear off to New Zealand long term, and 3) walking away defeated from a car accident having trashed your car, totally unaware your daughter has obtained evidence that the other party was completely at fault….

All of these dramas, though, are essentially English, and all are about life, and we love them, together with their characters and situations. The darkness in some way is cathartic for us; we identify, we exercise our powers of empathy as we are drawn into the tragedy and horror and irony of the characters’ experiences… and this is why drama, and fiction, is a gateway to truth, and so profoundly important in our lives.

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Comments on: "Dark TV Drama for Christmas 2016 and New Year 2017" (3)

  1. I watched the Bronte drama and found it very enthralling. In fact, I felt really sorry for Branwell and his mental breakdown! It must have been hard for him to be “the man” of the family and yet pale in comparison to the talent of his sisters. But I liked how he completely missed their struggles in a man’s world as well. Very good program.

    I didn’t see the other ones you mentioned, but I did watch Ethel and Ernest, the animated film about Raymond Briggs and his family. That one had me crying nearly all the way through, it was so emotional!

  2. I read the Agatha Christie years ago. So long ago that I had forgotten the twists. Some were predictable as they were the Christie formula, but not all of them. The net result was that I really enjoyed the drama, and I thought that the acting was great.

    I didn’t watch any of the others that you discuss. One has to be careful not to over-indulge at this time of year!

    • Very true Lance, about the “over-indulgence”! A couple of days ago I had my first chance to properly look through the Christmas Radio Times and there were several programmes I wish I’d watched. It would have been impossible to watch them all. I may watch them on Catch Up, or life may take over… All I can say is, as long as we find time for writing and reading books, that takes first priority!

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