Saturday, December 20, 2008
This is the story of two dads and a son. Steve Coogan plays one father, Bernard Hill plays his father and Dominic Senior plays Coogan's son. This is a story written by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey, both of whom had a hand in the cult classic The Royle Family and Early Doors, neither of which I've seen. Sunshine is a comedy in that there are bits that make you laugh, but Sunshine is also a drama. Coogan, who normally does comedy and starred in the incredibly bad Hamlet 2, is a gambling addict who has pissed away everything he has, including the love of his life.
In this three part series from BBC1, we watch as the gambling addict Bing gets into constant trouble with his longtime girlfriend Bernadette, but he always manages to charm his way back in. An affectionate and deep relationship buds between George and his grandson Joe, whom he calls his "sunshine". Bing gets increasingly more pathetic and finally Bernadette throws him out. Bing's life spirals into a terrible place and he almost steals his son's hard-earned saved money to gamble. Will Bing ever recover and stop placing bets? Will he and Bernadette ever reconcile? What secret does George keep? What will happen to Joe?
This might be one of the best British dramas I've ever seen. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I cried like a little girl throughout most of the third episode and it was breathtakingly poignant. I loved every minute of this show except for a couple terrible soundtrack choices.... The thin line between drama and mawkishness is a precarious one and more than once did this show teeter over the edge of maudlin soap-acting, but it never plummeted (that was a long metaphor).
What keeps it afloat is the excellent acting of Steve Coogan and Bernard Hill (whom you might remember as King Théoden of Rohan from The Two Towers). Both of them display a wide deptth of acting from pathos to humour. Everybody is else is quite brilliant, especially Bernadette's boss, who is doomed to ever be the quiet nice guy that never gets the girl. Even Dominic Senior, who plays Joe, is quite remarkable. He manages to act like a child, but he's not written like an adult would write a child.
The gambling addiction angle of the show feels so authentic, and Coogan never plays it for laughs or for ridicule. He seems like he's powerless, and temptation is everywhere. It's a finely honed performance.
If I had a complaint about the show, it would be the constant setting-up of the relationship between George and Joe. There's too many scenes of them hanging around and being cutesy. After the fourth or fifth scene, basked in golden light in a beautiful garden, it was simply hammering me over the head. "Do you see?!? They're very close!!! Do you see?!?!?!" I'm sure it's meant to drive home the heartbreak of the final episode, but it felt a tad artificial.
More interesting than the relationship between those two, was the constant back and forth complexity of Bing and Bernadette. They're obviously so totally in love with each other and they're both hurting each other. Bernadette pushes him away so that she can have a normal life while Bing continues to lie and gamble. Once Bing starts going to Gambler's Anonymous, it's heartbreaking that she won't give him another chance, but can you possibly blame her?
Amidst the great acting and the wonderful humour, there's the heartbreaking and beautiful story at the heart of Sunshine. This was a terrific show and I look forward to more from Craig Cash and Phil Mealey. Hopefully they continue what appears to be a fruitful partnership.