Living Apart Together Review
Living Apart Together screened on Channel Four one Thursday night in June 1983 and then promptly disappeared. It had been intended for a theatrical run as part of the emerging Film on Four initiative (the likes of The Draughtsman’s Contract and Neil Jordan’s Angel had debuted the previous year), but owing to a lack of product during the channel’s early days ended up going straight to television shortly after production. As far as I can tell there never was a repeat showing and no VHS release, making Park Circus’ new and fully-restored DVD a rare, and welcome, opportunity to become reacquainted.
The lack of a repeat is slightly surprising given the credentials behind Living Apart Together. In the lead role is B.A. Robertson who, during the early eighties, was enjoying considerable success. He’d racked up three top 10 hits as a solo artist and served as a co-writer on a number of Cliff Richard tracks, including another top 10 entry, Wired for Sound. He was also responsible for the theme tunes to Magpie and Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and a regular presence on TV. Living Apart Together would represent his first proper acting role having previous appeared in horror anthology The Monster Club in a purely musical capacity. Not that he was required to stretch himself too far; here he plays Ritchie Hannah, “Scotland’s number one singer-songwriter”.
Robertson finds himself in good company, with a particularly fine turn coming from David Anderson who had previously played Gregory’s dad in Gregory’s Girl. Gregory himself, John Gordon Sinclair, also pops up in small role as does another of Bill Forsyth’s actors, Peter Capaldi (who had made his debut in Local Hero just a short while earlier). Also worth a mention are the two main female roles occupied by Judi Trott (soon to become best-known as Lady Marion in ITV’s Robin of Sherwood series), who gives another of the standout performances, and Barbara Kellerman (who would play the White Witch in the BBC’s late eighties adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
The presence of Anderson, Sinclair and Capaldi wasn’t too much of an accident. The writer and director of Living Apart Together, Charles Gormley, was a former partner of Forsyth in Tree Films, which made a number of documentary shorts for the Films of Scotland Committee during the late seventies. No doubt backers of this new feature were expecting a repeat of Forsyth’s success; by the time Living Apart Together turned up on Channel Four he’d already made Gregory’s Girl, That Sinking Feeling and Local Hero to considerable success. Yet whilst Gormley would later prove that he could do a solid job of whimsical comedy with Heavenly Pursuits (which Park Circus re-released last year), his first feature would be a more bittersweet affair.
The title Living Apart Together is an ironic one, designed to reflect Ritchie’s life on the road. The film opens with him onstage in Newcastle on yet another tour and that’s having a strain on his family life. The death of a friend, and his funeral in Glasgow, allow for a brief visit home to see the wife and kids but she quickly decides she’s had enough and disappears. Unable to return to the gigging until he’s tracked her down, Ritchie takes to the city streets with assistant (Trott) and best pal (Anderson) in tow. A blend of comedy, drama and the musical ensues including a wonderful little duet between Robertson and Anderson in a piano store.
As would also show in the subsequent Heavenly Pursuits, Gormley can be, at times, a little too low-key for his own good. He handles the musical moments well and similarly finds just the right tone for the more comedic touches (the lightness of Anderson’s performance plays its part here too), but the dramatic edges don’t quite hit home as well they should. To an extent I wonder whether Robertson’s lack of experience as an actor had its say in such matters – it’s clear early on (during a scene in which he and Kellerman are required to row) that he’s much less comfortable with the ‘big’ moments, yet gives off a natural charm when less is required. Whatever the reason Living Apart Together doesn’t quite grab the viewer as well it should.
Nevertheless, there is something really quite likeable about the whole thing, not to mention the added appeal of having been so hard to see for so long. Living Apart Together may not be a film to outright love, but as with most of Park Circus’ Scottish resurrections (such as Death Watch, The Brothers and Gormley’s Heavenly Pursuits) it makes for a welcome, if minor rediscovery.
Living Apart Together has undergone extensive restoration work for this new DVD release and the end results are suitably impressive. The film is presented in its intended theatrical ratio and with original mono sound, both of which are essentially spotless. Colours are strong, contrast is excellent and the soundtrack ably handles both dialogue and the numerous musical performances. There are no optional subtitles, English or otherwise, and almost no extras – just an image gallery to accompany the main feature.