The Best in TV #2 – Our Friends in the North

When the BBC used to do epic, they did it very well….

Now you. Yes, you, you are probably too young to remember T Dan Smith, the Miner’s strike, Thatcherism and the destruction of Northern English working communities. I, though, lived through it – family of mine worked in steel, protested against Ian MacGregor and I saw the industry and lives I grew up around slip into the sea so that monetarism could work it’s magic. Now to tell the truth, my recollections of all this are performance enhanced. When the miner’s strike was taking place, I was probably more bothered about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and pretending I read Kafka. So I truly remember the events through the intermediary of Peter Flannery’s Our Friends in The North, a show that illustrates just how brave the Beeb used to be both in terms of scale and willingness to offer a critical view of politics.

Stare hard at the image above and you’ll see Bond, Dr Who and the baddie from Kick-ass. Now Gina McKee has had a good career too but the small screen has retained her fine acting skills whilst Mark Strong, Daniel Craig and Christopher Ecclestone have starred in blockbusters and transatlantic fare. In the show, they were the four friends growing up from the sixties to 1995, moving from Newcastle or not as their lives and events dictated. Craig played Geordie, a young man who left his hometown for the bright lights of the big city and found a place in the sleazier depths of London before a vertiginous breakdown and a return to the underbelly of the region. Ecclestone was Nicky, the idealistic socialist who got mentored by men he thought great and lost in a party that fell from power and the ideals he held. Strong was Tosker, a jack the lad who became a rather shoddy entrepreneur, and McKee was the woman who came between Tosker and Nicky and is Nicky’s true soul-mate and the politician he can never be.

Over 30 years, the changes in community, the passage of life and the development of our society is wonderfully captured. 9 episodes that are as global as they are personal, with many great actors turning up in near career best performances. Peter Vaughan as Nicky’s Alzheimer’s suffering Dad, Malcolm McDowell as the gangster who mentors Geordie, and Alun Armstrong as a figure very similar to the late T Dan Smith. It’s very clear where writer Peter Flannery’s sympathies lie but this is the kind of drama that crosses political perspectives and ensures for itself a good reputation across the spectrum simply because of it’s ambition and success. Perhaps, the biggest change since it was made in our media world is that such shows just don’t get made anymore as British broadcasters have become so timid and cautious.

Still, if you’ve never seen it I can tell you that it is TV crack – addictive beyond your wildest hopes. If the politics don’t interest you then the saga and the romance will as the actors are simply so good that no one is allowed to be a caricature and you will truly appreciate just how good Craig, Ecclestone and McKee are, as they have never surpassed their work here. So whether you want a rich tapestry or a political history, I say that this series is for you. Here’s a clip from the final episode:

The series is available on DVD in the UK and streaming overseas

John White

Updated: Mar 15, 2014

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The Best in TV #2 – Our Friends in the North | The Digital Fix