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This Life (1996)
I still hold firmly to the belief that the last episode of this landmark show is the best 40 mins of British TV drama ever. Any number of storylines coming sharply to a head, the terrific wedding reception with its toilet sex and terrible dancing, darkest secrets coming horrifyingly to light and the legendary punch. But how sad! If we'd known then that there would never be another series we would have stormed the BBC ourselves. But think positive. The show is endlessly rewatchable, and its influence has lived on in Queer as Folk, Attachments, Teachers, Metropolis, Tinsel Town and most contemporary drama since.
Just please, please publish the damn scripts!
The Disappearance of Finbar (1996)
You'll hate it or fall in love with it.
Bizarre, beautiful and quite unique; The Disappearance of Finbar is a difficult film to classify, starting out as a straightforward tale of teenage friendship turned to rivalry, transforming suddenly into a slow-burning, quiet but frequently wonderful oddyssey as Danny sets off on his trek through Sweden's stunning snowfields in search of the long-lost Finbar. Rhys-Myers is an unpredictable ball of energy while maintaining just enough of an air of mystery and distance, contrasting with Griffin's subtle Danny. The landscapes are to die for, the music grows on you and the film has a lingering, haunting quality. A little seen gem, this is the kind of movie that'll be adored and detested in equal proportion. 8/10
The Crow Road (1996)
A hugely impressive adaptation...
Brian Elsley's enormously commendable adaptation of Iain Banks' brilliant but seemingly unfilmable complex novel benefits from a witty, beautifully literate script and a strong cast, spearheaded by an immensely charismatic Joe McFadden as Prentice, the young Scot with the large, quirky circle of family and friends who gradually unravels a web of dark secrets. Bill Patterson is also worthy of note as the story-weaving, staunchly aetheist father, and the whole is a gripping, quietly stunning example of just how good BBC drama serials can be.
The Lakes (1997)
Wet & nasty...
Jimmy McGovern's terrific mini-series contains arguably one of the single most haunting images in modern TV, as Danny Kavanagh (played strikingly by John Simm) staggers out of the icy lake bearing the first of the drowned girls. Although nothing else (perhaps inevitably) sticks in the mind to QUITE the same degree, McGovern's writing & Simm's performance help create one of the sharpest British serials of recent years.
Beautiful Thing (1996)
Love amongst the dustbins...
A startlingly good love story. Doug Phillips (earlier comment) hit it on the head; its almost unique in that it deals, tenderly and with wit to spare, with a blossoming gay relationship between two hesitant young boys. Compare it with the irritating camp of such lousy American movies as The Birdcage & Jeffrey. Naturalistic performances by Glen Berry (WHY is he now in dodgy soap London Bridge?) & Scott Neal, and a terrific, award-worthy turn by Linda Henry as Sandra. And it even makes The Mamas & the Papas sound great.
Dreadful & awe-inspiring at every turn...
Hysterically awful TV update of the classic story clearly (or hopefully) wasted most of its budget on beer, because the special effects stretch to little more than a bloke in a bizarre furry white suit and a dizzily-whizzing, chirpy female head in a bubble (which may remind Brit viewers of a certain recent Building Society Ad). And F. Murray Abraham's in it! It's less than a decade since the Oscar, for God's sake, 'F'! But its fun. GREAT fun. Watch it AFTER the pub, as I'm ashamed to say I did not, and its a classic.