Blightyvision: “Exile”

Written by Paul Abbott and Daniel Brocklehurst
Directed by John Alexander
Starring John Simm, Jim Broadbent, and Olivia Colman

Despite the dynamic cast behind this show — just look at the credits right above — I know a lot of people refused, actively and vehemently, to give this even the beginning of a watch.  I suppose I can understand; once you’ve got the subject matter laid out for you, you might (depending on your family situation) find it a little too close to home to make it through without having your heart broken.  It’s handed to us as the story of a down-and-out man trying to reconnect with his estranged father, now suffering from Alzheimer’s.

And, okay, I guess it’s technically about that.  There is a down-and-out man, his father has Alzheimer’s, and they’re trying to reconnect.  But the gist of the story isn’t the activity — it’s the why of it.

Simm play Tom, the coke-addict son of once-brilliant journalist Sam Ronstadt (Broadbent).  Tom has been distant, unable to deal with his father’s condition, and has thus left Sam in the capable hands of his sister Nancy (Colman) for many years.  But Tom has decided to amend his ways and return home to dig into his father’s past.  Along the way, though, he discovers some unpleasant truths about his father’s past — mysterious payments in his records and unfamiliar names cropping up in what little conversation they can manage, to name a few.  To that end, Tom takes up his own personal investigation into his father’s past … which, over time, leads to unpleasant truths about his own.

In the end, “Exile” is not a story about Alzheimer’s.  Yes, it is a major (and often painful) part of the plot, but it isn’t the focus.  Rather, it’s one element of the mass of confusion and frustration in Tom’s life, and one of the major things keeping him from unearthing the truth about his father’s past.  Which is not to say the scenes between Tom and Sam aren’t touching and incredibly affecting.  They are, and Broadbent’s portrayal is eerily brilliant — and, for those who might not be used to seeing him in dramatic roles, incredibly eye-opening as to his talent as an actor.

There is one thing “Exile” made me notice about John Simm as an actor: he is, in an odd sort of roundabout way, a character actor.  That is, with the exception of his stint as the Master in “Doctor Who” (which I personally don’t consider to have been a good outlet for his talent), he always tends to play the exact same sort of Everyman undergoing various degrees of distress.  The mitigating factor is, he’s good at playing an Everyman, to the point that even when he’s exhibiting rather unsympathetic behavior, you still do sympathize with him.  With many other actors, that sort of limited range might be considered either typecasting or poor acting.  But with Simm, it’s something of an advantage.  It makes him oddly accessible, and that’s the sort of thing you need when your audience-association character is spending half his screen time snorting coke and banging other people’s wives.

Any heartstring-tugging happens fairly early on, clearing the way for the intrigue that takes up the latter part of the series, eventually focusing almost entirely on Tom.  I imagine the marketing focus on Broadbent’s character was a move to sell the show on a) his performance and b) it being the sort of thing you’d watch because it’s about a dramatic health condition.  I was actually disappointed that he didn’t get more screen time, because a) was very much a legit selling point even if b) was well overplayed in the ads.  Yes, if you have a family member or friend with Alzheimer’s, of course it will hit close to home.  But it’s worth that hit in the end.

“Exile” will win all the awards.  All of them.

Posted on May 26, 2011 at 14:28 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , , ,