by Del Harvey
Award-winning British political miniseries starring Michael Palin and Robert Lindsay releases February 23, 2010.
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It begins innocently enough: a politician calls a strike, and the headmaster of a local school inadvertently sabotages it. Soon the men are caught in a power struggle of epic proportions. In his BAFTA-winning role, Robert Lindsay (Horatio Hornblower) is brilliant as the corrupt, egomaniacal Labour party leader Michael Murray. Michael Palin (Monty Python) is superb as the principled, mild-mannered Jim Nelson. They are unlikely but inexorable foes, and as their conflict escalates, so do the risks. Nelson suffers from debilitating anxiety attacks. Murray hides a tormented past, and the arrival of a beautiful woman (Lindsay Duncan, Rome) further complicates matters.
Part satire, part political conspiracy, G.B.H. is set in the early 1990s, near the end of the Thatcher years, when numerous attempts were made by local left-wing councils to achieve significant degrees of autonomy. The plot revolves around the deliberate attempt by UK government secret services to discredit and bring down Murray’s leadership. On an ideological level this involves a left-wing theoretician, Mervyn, who is himself manipulated by MI5 agent Lou. Meanwhile, another MI5 agent Peter has recruited a gang of thugs, posing as left-wing activists (and, sometime later in the series, policemen) who perform as agents provocateurs. Each episode reveals more about the convoluted nature of the plot to discredit Murray.
G.B.H. was a seven-part British television drama written by Alan Bleasdale, made by independent production company G.B.H (Films) and shown in the summer of 1991 on BBC Channel 4. The central characters were Michael Murray (played by Robert Lindsay), the Militant Labour leader of an unnamed City Council in the north of England, and Jim Nelson (played by Michael Palin), the headmaster of a school for disturbed children.
The series was controversial partly because the character of Murray appeared to be based on Derek Hatton, the real-life former Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council. Supporting this is in an interview included in the boxed set where Bleasdale recounts an accidental meeting with Hatton, before the series had even been recorded, in which the latter indicates that he has caught wind of Bleasdale’s intentions, but does not mind as long as the actor playing him is “handsome.”
With a BAFTA-winning soundtrack by Elvis Costello and Richard Harvey, this richly woven, acclaimed British satire skewers its Thatcher-era setting. Veering from drama to farce, it’s a darkly humorous tale of good versus evil, the progress of madness, and the ultimate cost of revenge.
Bonus features include: Episode 1 commentary by Robert Lindsay, Michael Palin, and producer Peter Ansorge; interview with writer Alan Bleasdale (24 min.); biography of Elvis Costello; and cast filmographies.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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