Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Goodbye, for the moment, to Count Arthur Strong

It doesn't really need to be said, because you'll either get it or you won't, but the TV adaptation of Count Arthur Strong has been beautifully judged and got better with each succeeding episode. I have just watched the final episode (there is definitely going to be a second series) and it's difficult to describe except in the most general times - I don't want to ruin the surprise for those yet to see it on iplayer.

But the real achievement is the marriage of comedy and sentiment - no, that's not fair, because that implies unearnt emotion. You're taken into the lives of these strange and isolated characters - the cafe regulars - and really believe they have been united by the childlike Count Arthur. In the last episode in particular you see the effect when, for a while, he isn't there.
And what I said in an earlier post still holds good: he is consistently childlike, as Charles Barr said Stan Laurel was. He can't necessarily articulate his pain but he feels it, and he is a generous man, too, as he praises his former comedy partner. He is frequently at odds with a world in which things disappear or go wrong and words keep slipping irritatingly out of reach, but he seems entirely without malice, and he does have some self-knowledge, as when he says that Katia was not just his biggest fan but his only fan.

But the great achievement of Graham Linehan and Steve Delaney is that we buy that Arthur is a loveable man as well as an extremely annoying one, and that he deserves the - well, I don't want to spoil it: the gift which comes his way at the end.

The way is left wide open for a second series - again I can't go into detail without ruining it - and I look forward to it very much. It could be possible to make the complaint that, transferred to TV, Arthur is no longer centrestage in his own show. But it's a different and more interesting Arthur we're seeing now. When, at one point in the show, he makes a characteristic entrance to the cafe, you want to cheer because you now know what that batty ebullience represents, and that Arthur is not a man impervious to pain and loss. Even the proprietor forgets to be irritated at Arthur's order in his relief at having this force of nature fully restored - and he's good for business.

I don't know how the collaboration between Steve Delaney and Graham Linehan worked out exactly, but I do know that this is a sitcom which makes you believe in the power of the form again: there are good jokes, but it's character driven; that little crowd of the dispossessed says something about London today; and above all the series is life-affirming - healing, even. But it does this with a commendable lightness of touch and an absence of solemnity. You get your sitcom moments - I mean this is not comedy drama flying under false colours - but we believe in the world which has been created and care about these characters. I have seen many, many sitcoms over the years. A lot of them have been forgettable, though I usually stayed to the end anyway. Ben Elton's The Wright Way is a case in point. (Yes, really. No, I can't satisfactorily account for it either.) But I think Count Arthur Strong will be one of the ones which lodges in the memory.

Earlier post about Count Arthur here.

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