When did The Archers go all Eastenders?

Sean O’Connor, the new editor of The Archers recently promised to deliver storylines that are “Shakespearean”, although this one seemed more like something out of Albert Square.

The Archers
BBC Radio 4

It was all Kenton’s fault, I don’t doubt it. When Tom Archer dumped Kirsty in the vestry just moments before they were supposed to exchange vows (24 April, 7pm), it hadn’t been the Ribena spill on her dress that had tipped him, or that his ring had felt too suffocatingly tight when he tried it on in the shop, or even the ominously arty sound of rain on the Ambridge hedgerows the night before, as he agonised his way to Peggy’s house for advice. No, it was Kenton mentioning that on the wedding list Kirsty had specified a “floral teapot”. Which can only mean one thing to the British male: Cath Kidston. Little wonder Tom backed out! There’s nothing more terrifying than a world that starts with cherryade and ends with Brown Owl.

Kirsty’s dumping was met with the sort of howls from listeners that are usually confined to Japanese martial arts classes. I present one slack-jawed text message from my mother, sent seconds after the broadcast: “Who am I what am I where am I?” This was followed three hours later by: “Tom will top himself.”

Although the new editor of the show, Sean O’Connor, recently promised in an interview to deliver storylines that are “Shakespearean”, I confess that Perdita and Florizel in The Winter’s Tale were not the first things that sprung to mind during this particular nuptial meltdown. Kirsty’s cry, EastEnders-ishly relentless, rang down the pews and into Joe Grundy’s ears in a way that could only signal one thing: he was going to have to buy his own lunch at the Bull.

Annabelle Dowler, who plays Kirsty, then bravely took to Twitter for a live Q and A with fans and was soon fielding questions such as: “Who’s the greatest villain – Henry VIII or Tom Archer?” and “Can we . . . slowly burn [Tom] to a crisp like a sausage?” (“A bit harsh!” replied Dowler.)

“Were you not tempted to stray from the script and give Tom a jolly good slap around the face?” asked another. “Think that would have worked quite well on radio.” Dowler’s answer implied that, in truth, the actress was as miffed about this whole turn of events as everybody else. “It would have been a sound engineer doing it,” she wrote, “so I wouldn’t even have had the satisfaction myself!”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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Moving on up: why Ira Sachs is king of the "Rightmovie"

Little Men reminds us that Sachs is the the cinematic poet laureate of the gentrification drama.

There’s a nauseating moment at the end of the 1986 film Stand By Me when the narrator reflects on his childhood. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12,” he sighs. “Jesus, does anyone?” That sort of retroactive idealism is a temptation for any coming-of-age movie, but the writer-director Ira Sachs resists it in Little Men. His film charts the blossoming friendship between two 13-year-old boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri), without stooping to suggest that what they have is somehow purer than anything in the adult world. It isn’t – it’s just subject to different forces. Sachs captures the concentrated joy of youthful larks and loyalty but he is as wise as Fassbinder ever was to the impact of economic and social pressures on our emotional choices.

It’s clear that the film will be discreet from the way the cinematographer, Óscar Durán, shoots Jake and Tony from behind during their first meeting, as though permitting the boys a modicum of privacy away from our prying eyes. Sachs has a knack for finding those pockets of quiet in the hubbub. The opening shot puts the reserved, feminine-faced Jake at his school desk; he’s the still point in the midst of chaos. He takes whatever life – or, in this case, his classmates – can throw at him.

Then Jake gets a bombshell: his grand­father has died. His father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), and mother, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), move with him into the old man’s building in Brooklyn. Downstairs is a cluttered dress shop that was being leased to Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina García), at a cut-price rate that failed to take into account the property boom. Jake’s father considers himself a sensitive man – he is an actor – ­preparing for a production of The Seagull but his life has just become The Cherry Orchard. Family members advise him to jack up the rent or boot out Leonor.

Kinnear conveys the honest terror of a kind man staring into the depths of his conscience and not liking what he finds. García, the star of the superb Gloria, is brave enough to make her character actively disagreeable at times. In her most complex scene, she sacrifices the moral high ground and overplays her hand with a single rash remark.

Yet Little Men belongs to the little men. Sensing the tremors of discord between their families, Jake and Tony stick together. They skate through the streets in a blur as the camera struggles to keep sight of them behind trees and parked cars while the propulsive score by Dickon Hinchliffe of Tindersticks urges them on.

As Tony, Barbieri is the find of the film. He’s twitchy and gangly, his voice a scratchy drawl that belongs to a bourbon-soaked barfly. No one has swaggered through Brooklyn with such aplomb since John Travolta at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. Then he’ll do something impulsive, such as hugging his sobbing mother by wrapping his long arms all the way around her and clutching her head to his chest, and suddenly he’s a baby again.

With this and Love Is Strange – about a middle-aged gay couple forced to live separately due to financial difficulties – Sachs has appointed himself the cinematic poet laureate of gentrification-based drama. (Call it the dawn of the Rightmovie.) But he isn’t a tub-thumper. He and his co-writer, Mauricio Zacharias, show simply and plainly how money alters everything. Durán shoots the Brooklyn locations in a crisp, summery light that mirrors this straightforwardness. Any poetry springs from the everyday, such as the night-time shot in which blurred blobs of colour from streetlights and headlamps suggest dabs of paint on a palette.

Even the editing (by Mollie Goldstein) speaks volumes. The sudden cut from the gaudy clamour of a disco, where Tony wears a glow band around his neck like a fallen halo, to the chill calm of the subway platform evokes acutely that plunging feeling when the fun is over. As the boys wait for the train, their faces are framed in unsmiling repose in a shot that calls to mind Simon and Garfunkel on the cover of Bookends. And we all know what happened to them. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times