Friday, August 10, 2012
‘Bert And Dickie’: Drama Or Farce?
It is normally advisable to take a ‘Dr Johnson’ approach to any drama centred on rowing. The 18th-century man of letters famously said:
‘Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s dancing on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’
Films about rowing are rare and are rarely done well. Film makers prefer to make dramas about popular land based sports as the action sequences are considerably easier to shoot and edit to produce a reasonably convincing scene where an actor is portraying a top class athlete. As far as I know the only rowing sequence in a movie that convinces those who know about the sport is the Henley scene in The Social Network. When ‘rowing dramas’ are made they tend to closely follow the clichés set out in the guide ‘How to Make a Rowing Movie’ on the now sadly inactive ‘Tideway Slug’.
Bert and Dickie, however, threatened to be different. Firstly, it was made by the BBC who, famously, are rather good at this sort of period drama. Secondly, it had what film and TV people call ‘high production values’ that is, they spent time and money attempting to get it right. Thirdly, it employed some very talented actors in both lead and supporting roles. This included the wonderful Geoffrey Palmer who, as far as I know, had never appeared in anything bad – despite always playing much the same character. Finally, a large part of Britain and the world are in an ‘Olympic Mood’. At the present time many of us are susceptible to a ‘feel good story’ of plucky chaps winning against the odds. I wanted to like this programme.
A review of this journey on Hear The Boat Sing must be slightly different to one in most other places. ‘Dramatic criticism’ is one part but for rowing historians there is also the question of the accuracy of people, events and objects.
How does Bert and Dickie work as a piece of entertainment? It is commonly observed that ‘drama’ is real life with the boring bits taken out. In this necessary process the characters can become slightly one-dimensional, emotions can, unnaturally, change in an instant and all difficulties are unrealistically permanently overcome. ‘B and D’ is not immune from these faults – but very few dramatic productions are. For me, these criticisms did not spoil my enjoyment of ‘the journey’ from start to finish. The combination of an intelligent script, good acting, high production values and wonderful cinematography (with light use of CGI) makes a very simple story work. It is, simply, a bit of fun. For Brits, still basking in post-Olympic Regatta success with their cynicism blunted, the pleasure is highlighted.
The ‘clincher’ for me (and anyone associated with this blog) came with a scene towards the end, just before ‘the big race’. Bert is handed a note that says: ’Make the boat sing’. It almost made up for the over sentimental father-son reconciliations on the finish pontoon. However, Bert and Dickie, for all its predictably, is a dog that dances well.
There is a tribute to Bert and Dickie by ‘JBT’ on YouTube, here.