Monday, 12 October 2015

Forgotten: dialogue

I watched a repeat of "Dalziel and Pascoe" on the Drama Channel and ITV's new portmanteau-cum-police-procedural "Unforgotten" on successive nights last week. The contrast between the wit (and that is more than mere humour) of the dialogue in the first and the pedestrian, often predictable, lines of the second was striking.

It was Alison Graham's preview in the Radio Times which attracted me to "Unforgotten". She spotlighted Nicola Walker as a woman who carries a TV drama, like Anna Maxwell Martin in "Midwinter of the Spirit" and Suranne Jones in "Doctor Foster". The rich roster of acting stars in supporting rôles was another selling point of "Unforgotten", but for me the only player who really brought his character to life was Tom Courtenay. It must be to do with timing and long experience. There was also an intriguing middle-aged mixed-race couple made credible by Brian Bovell and Ruth Sheen. Otherwise the dramatis personae were pretty much stock. One trusts the characters will develop as the series goes on.

The template for the Dalziel and Pascoe dialogue was obviously set by the author of the books, Reginald Hill, but a dramatisation needs filling out with much extra talk and credit goes to Stephen Lowe and Alan Plater who scripted the two episode repeats I have so far seen.

It will be argued that in real life people, especially police officers, do speak in clichés. This is true to some degree, but one expects a little more from a drama series. Otherwise, one might just as well watch the reconstructions on Pick and Spike. Besides, what can be done is shown by another police procedural "Scott and Bailey",  co-starring the aforementioned Suranne Jones. The interchanges, especially between the leading characters, are both interesting - often colourful - and clearly based on the speech patterns of the professionals and the folk of the series' Manchester setting.

I shall keep watching "Unforgotten" because of its intriguing premise: how the unreported suspicious death of a teenager a generation ago links several disparate groups of characters. The puzzle element, like that of an Agatha Christie whodunit, is the hook. After all, while Allingham and Sayers of the "golden age" wrote better characters and more interesting dialogue, it was Christie who sold best.

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