Gay man Alan Davies falls for straight woman Lesley Sharp in Bob & Rose, a fine comedy-drama from 2001. Gary Couzens continues his look at the work of writer Russell T. Davies with a review of Carlton’s Region 0 release.
Bob Gossage (Alan Davies) is gay. Rose Cooper (Lesley Sharp) is about to move in with her boyfriend Andy (Daniel Ryan) but something doesn’t feel quite right to her. Bob and Rose meet by chance one night. They’re attracted to each other, which causes no end of confusion for Bob, not to mention his friends and family…
When Queer as Folk was in development, one of the ideas writer Russell T. Davies came up with was based on a friend of his, a gay man who fell in love with a straight woman. With the success of Queer as Folk, he took up the idea and wrote it as a serial of six parts, each an hour long with commercials. Nicola Shindler’s Red was again the production company, though this time the serial was made not for minority-interest Channel 4 but the mainstream channel ITV1. However, despite very strong reviews the ratings were disappointing. Although the depiction of Manchester’s gay scene was nowhere near as confrontational as that in Queer as Folk it was maybe a bit too much for a mainstream audience. Maybe Alan Davies’s fans couldn’t accept him playing a gay man. Whatever the reason, this serial – which contains some of Russell T. Davies’s best work – might have done better on Channel 4.
Davies is known for his sympathetic portrayal of women as well as gay men – straight men tend to be unsympathetic or sidelined – and here he puts one of each at centre stage. In fact, two straight women, as Bob’s friend and confidante Holly (Jessica Stevenson) has more and more of an effect as the story progresses. In many ways, Bob & Rose is an advance on Queer as Folk. Although the central characters are very well drawn, the real strength of the serial is a rich and diverse supporting cast, a network of friends, family and work colleagues that we all have. Quite subtly, the serial shows how many of these people have a piece of Bob or Rose, and how their affair is threatening to them. Bob’s mother (Penelope Wilton) is far more of a pro-gay activist than he is, and his becoming “straight” undermines her and causes a rift in her marriage to Bob’s father (John Woodvine). Bob’s gay friends (and occasional lovers) are less than welcoming to Rose. And Holly finds her best (platonic) friend move away from her, and her actions in the latter stages are motivated by jealousy.
Alan Davies’s background was in comedy, both as a stand-up and in earlier TV series like Jonathan Creek. He copes well with his first non-comic role, playing against his rather laddish persona. He raises his voice a little to give it a fey overtone without descending into outright camp. Lesley Sharp’s acting career goes back to the mid 1980s but this was one of her earliest leading roles. She gives a luminous performance. The supporting cast is very strong, in some cases overqualified for their roles: Katy Cavanagh, who had made her breakthrough in The Cops, and Carla Henry, looking quite a bit older than she did in Queer as Folk two years earlier, come to mind. This isn’t a director’s piece, but Julian Farino and Joe Wright, doing three episodes each, keep the story going with unshowy ease.
Bob & Rose does have its faults, mostly overlength. (Davies admits in the commentary that the middle episodes tend to develop character at the expense of plot, a fault this serial shares with Queer as Folk.) Now and again Davies can’t resist indulging a sophomoric sense of humour: it’s not a big leap from Holly’s repeated pratfalls to the farting aliens in Doctor Who. I’d also have finished the final episode a minute early, but that may just be my personal taste and a reason why I don’t write populist TV drama. But on balance, the good points far outweigh the flaws, and Bob & Rose is a fine showcase for the talents of its writer and its cast.
Carlton’s DVD of Bob & Rose comprises two discs, three episodes on each. Unusually for a Carlton disc, and for a British television DVD, it’s encoded for all regions, not just Region 2 as you might expect.
The DVD is transferred in full-frame 4:3. 2001 was certainly within the widescreen TV era (both series of Queer as Folk were in 16:9) so you do wonder if there was a 16:9 version of this available, and if so why it wasn’t provided on this DVD. (I did watch the serial on its first broadcast but I don’t remember which ratio it was in.) Nowadays when most British TV is shot on Digital Betacam, the use of 16mm in a serial that’s only four years old dates it a little. However it’s always pleasing on the eye, and the grain in darker scenes doesn’t seem excessive, though there is some minor artefacting.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround, a mix that uses the surrounds mainly for the music score. There are some directional effects. Dialogue is always clear. The opening episode has nine chapter stops, the remaining ones ten each.
The main extra is an commentary from Davies and Davies. Disappointingly this only appears on the first episode on each disc – one and four – though better that than four and a half hours with lots of dead space. There’s an obvious rapport between the two men and a lot of information is conveyed in an hour and a half in an entertaining way. Davies is quite open about what he sees as the serial’s faults. The remaining extras are text-based: biographies and production notes, half on each disc.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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