It's been done before, of course. But this is as relentless
as British television drama has been for some time.
Four episodes into 'Holding On' and there's still no sign of any easy answers.
By using London and its hell-is-other-people insanity as a setting, we're
dragged kicking and screaming through events that savagely undermine any
sense of logical cause and effect. The word 'uncompromising' could have been
invented for it.
It's about panic attacks and nausea, an unavoidable feeling of seething, filthy
randomness. Very Sartre. It's about people trying to find causes to embrace,
significance in their lives...and failing. It's about a taxi driver who can
be pushed far enough to kill a passenger in his rage at his wife's affair but
can't face speaking to her about his feelings. It's about people trying to
Forgetting the odd lapse into corn, it is brilliant, ground-breaking television.
Much has been made of the adoption of various dramatic styles for the filming
of each character - Phil Daniel's vile restaurant critic is shown in nauseating
fish eye lense close-up, the tax inspector is permanently acting out an episode
of 'Cracker' - and much of it is, I think, wrong. The purpose, far from clever-clogs
parody, is to emphasise the lack of understanding - each character is always
looking at themselves, engrossed in their own world and their own perception, never
able to see things through anyone else's eyes. Again, very Sartre.
Not a lot of jokes, then. And that'll be the test of 'Holding On', the thing
that could transform it from a fine attempt into a modern classic. What
separates the great from the good is not the ability to trawl the depths of
despair but to climb out again. It's relatively easy to write fiction or
drama that doesn't seek any answers, that opts out of that search in favour
of a kind of bland, blanket nihilism.
But if you take one of Hubert Selby's masterpieces
or 'Bad Lieutenant' (the most potent, shattering piece of cinema this decade),
their magnificence is drawn from redemption, resurrection, faith. Going back
as far as 'King Lear', the same is true. As works of art, they draw beauty
from the most anguished of situations.
In 'Holding On', the stage is set for just such a triumph. Heaven only knows
if it will be brave enough to achieve it. Regardless, this is fierce,