This article was originally published in the Dundee Courier on 7th October 2017.
THE LAST POST: Sunday, BBC One
PORRIDGE: Friday, BBC One
History is an endless spin-wash of repeated mistakes, never to be learned from. That’s the sobering message at the heart of THE LAST POST. It’s a sound point, but I didn’t enjoy this new drama from Peter Moffat (Silk; Undercover; Criminal Justice) in the slightest.
Caked in sweat, violence and despair, it’s set in a British military police compound in Aden, Yemen, in 1965.
Aden was one of the oldest colonies in the British Empire. By the mid-1960s, it was a moribund anachronism, one of the final, desperate shreds of this shameful chapter in our great nation’s mission to civilise the world with politely armed oppression.
Potentially fascinating subject matter, but The Last Post is just another staidly prestigious production in which the usual stock cast of decent actors go through the motions while a writer hits you over the head with their political point. Yes, I get it, Peter. The torture of prisoners in Yemen really did resemble the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Let’s smack ourselves sore on the back for recognising that.
It’s such a boring shimmer of expensive waste. The excellent Jessica Raine does a good, committed drunk-act in a drama that no one will remember in six weeks time. The cinematographer might get a BAFTA. Earnest speeches will be made from the podium. Life marches on.
Last year’s unpromising pilot for a new series of the classic prison sitcom PORRIDGE was greeted with a shrug from most viewers and critics, hence the ensuing bafflement when the BBC announced that it had been picked up for a series.
The pilot wasn’t terrible, but it felt pointless. Although episode one of the new series was an improvement – it felt more comfortable in its own skin - there’s still no way of forgetting that you’re not watching Ronnie Barker and co delivering a masterpiece. It’s difficult to appreciate this Porridge on its own terms.
Of course, everyone involved in the production must be acutely aware of that. It’s written by the estimable Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, creators of the original, who couldn’t write a bad half hour of comedy if they tried. But I do wonder whether, in their heart of hearts, they’d rather be writing a brand new sitcom, rather than a tribute to one of their previous successes.
They haven’t altered the original formula at all, which works both for and against it.
Fletch’s grandson is a chip off the old recidivist block. That is, he’s exactly the same character, albeit played by someone else (Kevin Bishop). The younger Fletch is a cyber-criminal (how terribly modern) serving five years in a prison which just so happens to employ a tough, no-nonsense Scottish warder with a well-meaningly lenient sidekick. History repeating, once again.
Bishop has clearly studied Barker’s performance and delivers a likeable imitation. I don’t envy him having to step into such enormous shoes, but he doesn’t embarrass himself in the slightest. Clement and La Frenais still know how to write for Fletch. Again, however, that only serves to encourage comparisons with the original.
It’s a prison from which they can never escape.
This new Porridge is occasionally quite funny, but it’s essentially a competent facsimile of a superior work. It doesn’t really need to exist.