Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bottling out

Yesterday I finally got round to reading Sharon Foster's TV script for Shoot The Messenger which I'd filed away to study at a later date. STM is downloadable from BBC Writers room here

Hmm.. its an inventive, easy read; a page turner (or page scroller) The lead character's storyline dashes along - from unjust accusation to suspension from work to criminal conviction to job loss and unemployment to social withdrawal to mental breakdown to homelessness to rescue by religious do-gooders to re-employment to love interest - at break neck speed.

The lingo is often crisp and punchy - especially lines such as Mabel's 'Stop coming and come'. The lead character - Joe's narrative slips skilfully between monologue and dialogue - a device which works well on the page - building rapport with the viewer and bringing some comic moments. Less successful are certain 'contrived' scenes (how do you introduce a single mother who has four different children by different fathers? - let them each call dad on their cell phones!)

More surprising is the absence of real controversy. Early scenes where Joe goes out of his way to avoid black people are some of the funniest in the script. So STM manages to keep a safe distance from inner-city realism and escalating xenophobia. There's no mention of asbos /recent school yard murders. Instead, newspaper headline montages create a 'back-grounded' sense of the melting pot. Some parts seem dated or clich├ęd - scenes in the job centre, sleeping in card board box, equation of natural Afro hair with self worth etc.

In the first act, Joe the schoolteacher (hero/anti hero) is falsely accused by a pupil at school and suspended pending further investigation. He is found guilty and loses his job. Ok so in a script, an 'unjust accusation' can be used to 'buy into' viewer sympathy right from the start. Then, of course, the wrongly accused must proceed to fight his corner.
However here, someone (maybe the script editors) decided that probably no one was going to 'sympathise' with black Joe's anti-black opinions - so he had to be isolated in some way. So Joe bottles out - he bottles out of lodging an appeal - he bottles out of standing up for what he believes in - he bottles out of life. Maybe this is supposed to be the point? But because Joe bottles out, the script also falls down. Someone forgot that because Joe is the wrongly accused 'underdog' at the beginning, we are actually on his side. By the end who cares?

Overall STM is more treatise on 'black British self worth' 'identity' and 'blame culture' - rather than controversial UK race drama. There's much talk and little action and ultimately (on the page anyway) it fails to move.
I know I'm a bit late with this but what did you think?


Anonymous said...

kick ass amanda,

refusing the tyranny of right-onness about blackness. The lazy treatise of saying the obvious and claiming your fantastical imaginary black people means that you're keeping it real.

it's about as real as Superman.

Anonymous said...

" treatise on 'black British self worth''identity' and blame culture'"

I thought that was all it was meant to be about? and in that it is fine, it comes up against problems because in a sea of 1000 programs where white lives and culture are examined this is only one drama from a Black writer and it it trying to dealing with everything...