Friday, September 26, 2008

 

The Avengers – Too Many Christmas Trees

Have you noticed The Avengers is back on, late on Friday nights on BBC4? If not, consider this a Christmas present. A Christmas present? Well, it’s September, so what could be more natural than shops stuffed with Advent Calendars and stockings full of chocolate, and The Avengers’ Christmas special showing at 12.40 in the morning? And it’s (forgive me) a cracker, too, plunging Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg into a Dickensian nightmare that’s one of the very best of the series. What’s in Steed’s Christmas stocking? Is he really losing his mind? Is telepathy real? Tune in and find out.
Steed hangs up his stocking – Emma asks for more
Richard’s inordinately fond of the BBC’s 2005 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, with Gillian Anderson riddled with accidie and pitted against Charles Dance’s extraordinarily monstrous Mr Tulkinghorn. We’ve just finished watching it again on DVD, and were so impressed that not only have I started reading the novel (three hundred pages in, only seven hundred to go, and a note to the editors: if you’re going to stick 46 footnotes in a 7-page chapter, how about sticking them at the foot of the page rather than a thousand pages to the back so your reader has to flick so often they go quite mad?), but we’ve made a start on the 1985 adaptation with, goodness me, Diana Rigg. So far it’s being stolen by Denholm Elliott as Mr Jarndyce, but however good Diana’s Lady Dedlock turns out, it’ll be very difficult for her to beat her outstanding turn in The Avengers’ exploration of Dickensiana. And it’s not just Diana Rigg’s Dickens role coming a couple of decades ahead that gives Too Many Christmas Trees that special boost: A Christmas Carol is, of course, one of many stories that get a sly reference in the script, but if you’ve seen the Alastair Sim film from a couple of decades earlier, why, there’s young Patrick Macnee, and also Mervyn Johns, who’s cast as this story’s version of the friendly, effusive typical Dickens benefactor…

Before the details and the spoilers, why’s Too Many Christmas Trees especially worth watching? Three things stand out for this eerie corrective to Christmas. The two leads are really on top form, with Diana Rigg fabulously determined as Mrs Peel carries much of the story while Steed is cracking up; Patrick Macnee ranges from light, to madly jolly, to positively haunted in a superb performance. It’s one of darkest, most atmospheric Avengers stories, tensely directed and – in the Hall of Great Expectations – giving one of the most sinister moments of the whole series. But though a ghostly midnight tale, it’s not a downbeat story; it’s also very funny, with the tension often arising from the humour and particularly thanks to Steed and Emma’s relationship here being at its wittiest, warmest and strongest. Oh, and right from the opening moments, it boasts some smashingly stylised hallucinations that you really shouldn’t show to anyone who still believes in Santa.

More to follow next week. Harrumble!

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Comments:
Hurrah for cousin Di! She's a party member, you know!

(I don't actually know her, she's a very distant relative. But, you know, we share the family jawline. It's just that she got the legs).
 
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