Classic Drama: This Life

For a while I thought this blog would turn into a Martin Millar style site with long periods of inactivity interrupted by posts about the DVDs I’ve been watching. (Not that I’m knocking Millar – apparently he is doing a new Thraxas book, providing the only reason for me to get an ereader.) But I have been mainlining Mad Men and This Life and plan to finally get on to The Wire soon.

‘Out there is chaos.’ The first piece of dialogue in This Life, spoken by Warren, the tormented gay solicitor to his therapist. And he doesn’t know the half of it. In their Southwark HMO the lawyers impact on each other’s personal and professional lives. The writers combine tight plotting with a sense of accumulating entropy: no one can trust each other and the train is heading off a cliff. Most series end with the writers scrambling around to tie up the loose ends. This Life finishes in violence and disorder and with nothing resolved. It’s both a triumph of storytelling and a testament to the storyless impermanence of all things.

Screened in the 1990s, This Life was ahead of its time and still seems that way, with jogging handheld camera angles, sustained closeups of a character’s face or eyes. The indifferent London traffic is a constant presence: from the scenes where Egg ruminates in bed in the morning to Miles’s midnight declaration of love the road noise is like the sea in a shell. The show has no incidental score or obvious stings, but the characters always have quintessential nineties music on in the background: Lush, Reef, Suede, Happy Mondays, Sneaker Pimps, Massive Attack, Charlatans, Everything Must Go-era Manics, pre-OK Computer Radiohead – I’m not someone who thinks that all music was better in the old days, but This Life‘s informal soundtrack creates a moody, thoughtful aesthetic that is refreshing in these days of nouveau-twee shit everywhere from indie to blogs to books. Being an urban literary snob, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but This Life I keep on going back to, perhaps because it reminds me of good times in my adolescence, driven around in my dad’s Volvo, going to theatres and pubs and hanging out in his Chorlton houseshare.

And one other thing. I don’t talk much about matters of the heart, but this has to be shared. I fell in love with Anna when I first saw the series and now, watching it twelve years later, I have fallen in love with her all over again and realised that I’ve found my feminine ideal. A kickass feminist babe with mind like a knife and a capacity for vicious amusement to put Flashman to shame, but you also get the impression that she’s happiest alone in her room with a Tolstoy paperback and a bottle of Soave. I know I’m an idiot, but Christ, those big, dark, expressive and busy eyes! The worst part of the generally horrendous follow-up/reunion This Life +10 was that Amy Jenkins, who devised the series (although she didn’t write most of it) had Anna using artificial insemination to make herself pregnant – a travesty of a fate for this femme fatale of British culture.

A curse on Amy Jenkins for making This Life +10!

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5 Responses to “Classic Drama: This Life”

  1. kate m Says:

    I’m guessing we must be about the same age. Lately I’ve been making my way through the episodes available on See Saw. It stands up very well, I think. In fact many scenes seem painfully realistic; more so than on my first viewing, because I’d no way of knowing at 16 how well they’d captured the politics of house sharing (and office work, for that matter).

    As for the sins of This Life+ 10… Amy Jenkins’ refusal to acknowledge anything that happened in series 2 was the most interesting thing about it. I remember her saying in interviews ten years ago she thought the second series was too crude. Makes me wonder if there was a touch of sour grapes over Richard Zajdlic’s story arc being more successful?

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Yeah. I am 28 and watched the series originally in my mid teens. The banality and little drama of HMOs is captured well – in fact apart from Game On I can’t think of another series that even acknowledges that most twentysomething and even thirtysomething professionals are in HMOs; most TV programmes have people on average incomes in massive single occupancy apartments.

    I know that Jenkins only wrote the first few episodes. Probably most of the craziness that happened in series two would have been resolved by the time they were in their thirties, but it’s interesting that she says she didn’t like the second season (got a link to the interview?) because it is better and deeper with more narrative drive.

  3. Kate Mascarenhas Says:

    I’ve had a look, but the documentary I was thinking of doesn’t seem to be online (it was made just after she got her big book advance and was called This Life That Girl).

    From what I recall, she thought the writing was fine, but she wasn’t happy with the characterisation. Miles was singled out for being more “laddish” than she’d imagined him. Ferdy and Lenny’s sex scene in the toilet attracted the “crude” comment I think.

  4. maxdunbar Says:

    Miles is a bit FHM, but in a very convincing upper-class way. His running dispute with Ferdy was hilarious.

    Ah, Jenkins’s career as a novelist… how’s that going?

  5. Julia Smith Says:

    This seems like the appropriate place for a confession that I’m pretty sure that me and far too many other women of my acquaintance only ended up slogging it out in the legal profession because of This Life.

    Never did charlie in the work toilets or shagged a mate’s dad but in many other respects we did our feeble bests to emulate Anna. And I don’t ever recall meeting anyone who wanted to be Millie!

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