We Recommend: We'll Take Manhattan

On BBC4 last night, We’ll Take Manhattan gave us a glimpse into the rarely-dramatised world of sixties fashion, with Aneurin Barnard and Karen Gillan playing photographer David Bailey and model Jean Shrimpton, flying out to New York for an all-in-one seminal photoshoot and love affair.

Since a lot of the young folk nowadays (including me) might have no idea who Bailey and Shrimpton are, the main hurdle is making us care about the conflict: old, stiff modelling versus Bailey’s new wave of vibrant street scenes. They pull this off with style and humour, mostly by giving him a clear adversary to lock swords with: supervisor Lady Claire (Helen McCrory).

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Both of them are fantastic, in different ways: Barnard does a great charming upstart, whilst McCrory gets the good lines and, despite being the “bad guy”, earns our sympathies in the end. And it’s the back-and-forth pranking between these two which drives the story and makes us give a damn about fashion fifty years ago. Yes, the sixties were fifty years ago. Sorry, guys.

You may note I haven’t mentioned Karen Gillan, despite this being heavily plugged by the BBC as her first major role outside Doctor Who. Well, she’s rather sidelined by the ideological battle, to be honest. Having said that, she manages to play Shrimpton as quiet and unassuming, yet still having emotions, and, glancing at the original Bailey/Shrimpton New York pictures, I think she captures the spirit.

Not too sure about that posh-English accent she’s putting on, but maybe I’m too used to her natural Scottish voice.

In short, We'll Take Manhattan ends up being a surprisingly involving and fun drama about the beginnings of a fashion revolution, establishing Aneurin Barnard as a man to watch in the future. Who fans viewing only for Karen Gillan may be disappointed that she’s ended up with the third biggest role, but that’s just diabolical Beeb marketing in action. Which I’ll hypocritically be copying when I plug this review on social media.

You can watch We'll Take Manhattan on BBC iPlayer for a week after broadcast, and there's also more information on the official BBC programme page.

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