Blightyvision: “The Song of Lunch”

Directed and adapted by Niall MacCormick
Based on the poem by Christoper Reid
Starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson

Dramatize a modern poem.  Oh dear.

I’m a bluff old traditionalist, in that I’ve never quite been able to get behind modern poetry.  It’s not so much a dislike as a discomfort, even after studying it at length in college.  Perhaps it’s the all-too-common inability — usually the fault of professors — to present it as anything other than something to be dissected, or perhaps it’s the fact that not being keen on anything James Joyce and beyond gets you tagged as a square by fellow English majors.  And perhaps I am being needlessly harsh on the genre, but it’s no good to do this review without the reader understanding my mindset as I walked into this.

(There is also the fact that the last time I saw Alan Rickman in a poem-to-screen adaptation, he was a head in a vase or something.  Readers are welcome to supply the name of said PBS pledge drive fodder.)

So I will say now that the only, only reasons I sat down to “The Song of Lunch” were that it starred a pair of actors who work brilliantly together, and it was only 47 minutes long.  I came in with middling expectations, and while I did not come away stunned and enlightened by Art, I got the feeling that perhaps, for a change, I wasn’t meant to.

Our two players are simply He (Rickman) and She (Emma Thompson), with the male counterpart narrating the story in the third person.  The plot as such is secondary to the words: He and She were once in love — or at least lust, as it’s left mildly open-ended on that front — and have grown apart ever since She married someone else.  The two have agreed to meet for lunch, and the essence of the piece is in the interaction between them.  He is quite obviously still infatuated with her; She seems a bit up in the air about even liking him as a person.

Rickman has almost the entirety of the lines in the piece, as he both narrates and interacts with Thompson, but even her lengths of wordless acting are fantastic.  Her work is mostly in reactions, and opposite Rickman getting progressively drunker and more defensive over the course of the meal, she presents a front of distaste that helps keep her lunch date’s antics from seeming laughable.  (Drunk and aggressive can be tetchy acting territory when you’re not playing for laughs.)  Rickman’s narration also helps to add a layer of sanity, giving some sense of reluctant sympathy.

When you’re being handed the action verbally, it can be hard to reconcile that with the visual element, as it runs the risk of seeming redundant.  But the juxtaposition is handled well — and while I will admit now that I have not had access to the original poem to read it, it seemed as though none of it was cut for the purpose of shooting.  (Again, dear readers, correct me if I am wrong.)  Writer/director Niall MacCormick’s CV is limited to a few episodes of other shows and a Margaret Thatcher biopic, but he handles the adaptation as well as can be expected and keeps it from being clumsy.

The Beeb has been attempting some rather daring stunts to bring attention back to homegrown television of late, and this was clearly one of their more death-defying.  It was most definitely a vehicle for the actors — a chance to see Rickman and Thompson work together again, which is always fun — and an attempt to play with a gimmick that is rarely (if ever) played with in the first place.  The result was not genius, but it’s also not 47 minutes of my life I’m going to demand back.

If you’re a fan of either actor, and especially if you’re one of those what swoons over Mr. Rickman’s voice on a regular basis, it’s one for a watch, and possibly even repeat viewings.  I’m not entirely sure how those who eat up modern poetry will feel about it, as I don’t think it plays to that demographic (or any) in particular.  See it once, if only to enjoy the chemistry between two amazing performers.

“The Song of Lunch” aired far too recently for there to be any talk of a DVD release.  Seriously, you guys.

Posted on November 18, 2010 at 00:13 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , , ,