Callan – Where Else Could I Go?

where else

Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Jim Goddard

Where Else Could I Go? is something of a reboot for Callan.  Partly this was unavoidable.  Since a brainwashed Callan had killed his boss in the previous episode, Death of a Hunter, there had to a new Section head and William Squire fills the part perfectly.  And thanks to the fact that the colour Thames episodes were the most assessable during the last thirty years in the UK (repeats on C4 in the 1980’s and on UK Gold during the 1990’s) Squire would have been the first Hunter that many (including myself) would have seen – so he is Hunter.

His Hunter is very much in the Ronald Radd mode.  He has a respect for Callan’s abilities, but he also has no qualms in withholding information from him (especially when he knows that such knowledge would impair Callan’s ability to successfully carry out the mission).  Squire’s Hunter is also completely ruthless, able to compartmentalise his personal life from his professional duties (see God Help Your Friends for a good example of this).

We’re told that Toby Meres is on secondment in America (in reality, Anthony Valentine was filming Codename for the BBC).  Valentine is missed during series three, but it does provide an opportunity to create a new Section operative for Callan to battle with – James Cross (Patrick Mower).

As with the Callan/Meres relationship, Callan and Cross take a little time to form a reasonable working partnership.  Cross (unlike Meres) is younger than Callan, so there’s less of a feeling that the two are equals (Callan would later always call Meres by his first name, whilst Meres would usually refer to the older man as Mr Callan).

But this edge between them (like the earlier one with Meres) is useful for creating tension and drama.  Most series would have gone down the buddy route (like Bodie and Doyle) whereas Callan does something a little more interesting.  Cross is young, keen and desperate to prove himself to be as good, if not better, than Callan.  But his inexperience and rashness will often create problems (as the upcoming episodes Summoned to Appear and A Village Called G demonstrate).

There’s still some familiar faces though.  Liz (Lisa Langdon) remains Hunter’s secretary and she’ll enjoy some decent character development during series three and four (especially in A Village Called G).  Clifford Rose is still the icily amoral Dr Snell and, of course, the peerless Russell Hunter is back as Callan’s smelly friend Lonely.

Lonely is pivotal to this story, since Hunter uses him to see if Callan still has any fight or spirit left.  If he has, there’s still a place for him in the Section.  If not, then he’s finished – certainly in the Section, but also probably outside of it.  No doubt Hunter would have no qualms in ordering his permanent removal.

Where Else Could I Go? opens with Cross visiting Callan in hospital, where he’s still recovering from the events seen at the end of series two.  Although he’s clearly far from well, his ability for self-preservation is something that’s automatic.  Cross announces that he’s come from Hunter, but Callan (who’s never met Cross before) isn’t going to take anything on trust.  Unseen by Cross, he places a razor-blade in a bar of soap and keeps this weapon behind his back until he’s seen Cross’ written authorisation.

He’s then reassured enough to put his weapon down, but not before he silently shows it to Cross.  This ensures that their relationship starts off on a combative footing.  Cross knows of Callan’s reputation but considers him to be past it, nothing but a shadow of his former self.  Callan, whilst his dislike for the Section has been stated many times, still needs it – and he isn’t going to be trampled underfoot by a young upstart like Cross.

Physically, Calllan’s not in bad shape, but it’s his attitude when he meets the new Hunter that’s concerning.  He’s conciliatory and deferential – with little sign of the old, fiery operative.  Therefore Hunter decides to threaten the one person in the world (Lonely) who Callan has affection and friendship for and see what happens.

The first meeting between Callan and Lonely in this episode is very awkward.  With Callan hospitalised for several months, Lonely drifted back into crime and since he’s not the world’s brightest crook (although with Callan to watch his back, he’s a formidable thief) he’s ended up on remand and is looking at a lengthy prison sentence.  Callan offers to help, but a tearful Lonely refuses – since Callan wasn’t around when he was arrested, why should he help now?

It’s a cracking scene for both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter.  Callan is still hurting, but the signs are there that he’s beginning to recover some of his spirit whilst Hunter manages to make Lonely seem even more pathetic than usual.  But eventually Callan is able to talk him round, thanks to the intervention of a high-powered lawyer called Henshaw (Gary Watson).

Henshaw and Callan know each other from their army days (Henshaw was Callan’s superior officer) and their meeting helps to shine a little light on Callan’s pre-Section career.  Back then he wasn’t called Callan, and was obviously far from a model solider, but he did save Henshaw’s life and now Callan is calling in the debt.  The fact that Callan chooses to use the leverage he has to try and get Lonely released is a good sign that Callan feels responsible for him (although he’s also well aware of how useful, as a thief, he can be).

The showdown between Hunter and Callan is the episode’s key moment.  Callan loses his temper when he realises that Hunter has targeted Lonely – but Hunter isn’t upset.  He’s been waiting for Callan to show some spirit and this convinces him that there’s a still a place for Callan after all.

Hunter agrees to stand bail for Lonely and then asks him if he’s happy to be back in the Section.  Anybody who knows the history of the character will also know the love/hate relationship he has with the Section in general and the various Hunters in particular.  Previously, we’ve seen that Callan was keen to leave and forge a life outside.  But this is an older, damaged Callan who knows that, at present, he needs the security that the Section offers.

So there’s no smile on his face, just bitter resignation as he says “where else could I go?”

An Age Of Kings – Episode Eight – The Band of Brothers (Henry V)

band

The Band of Brothers concludes the adaptation of Henry V.  It opens with the Chorus’ description of the English camp on the night before the Battle of Agincourt.  Henry (in disguise) moves around the camp to gauge the thoughts of his men.  One of them, Williams (another fine performance from Frank Windsor), is most eloquent on the subject of whether they are right to face the French on the following day.

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at
such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of
subjection.

The next dawn dawns and Henry has one final chance to rouse his men before they do battle.  This is another of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches – the St Crispian’s Day speech – and Robert Hardy attacks it full-bloodily.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Whilst we’ve discussed before the problems of staging battles with such limited production resources, it’s disappointing that the Battle of Agincourt is so limply presented.  There surely should have been a way to present it better than this.  We see a shot of feet walking on the spot facing right and then switch to another shot of feet walking on the spot facing left.  The shot then cuts back and forward several times – which is meant to illustrate the two armies marching towards each other.  Then there’s a tight shot of soldiers engaged in a very slow battle, whilst Henry is placed in the foreground, looking towards the camera.  The whole battle sequence lasts only twenty seconds or so.

There’s a number of cuts to the text made – some scenes with Pistol, Gower and Fluellen are excised and Henry’s reaction (“I was not angry since I came to France. Until this instant.”) now occurs immediately after we’ve seen the luggage boys killed, which is used to underscore why he is so keen to ensure that not one Frenchman is left alive.

But the battle’s over, although it takes a little while for it to sink in. When Henry realises he’s won, he sinks to his knees and accepts the congratulations of Fluellen (Kenneth Farrington) who claims Henry as a true-born Welshman. With so much of Fluellen’s role cut (including his duel with Williams in Act Four, Scene Eight) it’s difficult for Farrington to make much of an impression – but at least he manages it here.

The confrontation between Fluellen and the “turkey cock” Pistol in Act Five, Scene One doesn’t play terribly well. Fluellen seems too aggressive and Pistol (George A. Cooper) plays it too broadly. It really needed a lighter comic touch than was presented here.  And given that many of Fluellen’s lines have been cut, it probably would have been better to lose this as well, since it really only works when we’ve seen more of Fluellen.

Things improve when we move to the French court and Henry attempts to woo Katherine. As with Signs of War, Judi Dench impresses as Katherine.  After their courtship, the Chorus returns to being the play to its conclusion by resting a hand on a coffin which contains Henry.  So as the Chorus concludes the tale of Henry V, Henry VI is waiting in the wings.

Next up – Episode Eight – The Red Rose and the White

An Age Of Kings – Episode Seven – Signs of War (Henry V)

Judi Dench
Judi Dench

Episodes seven and eight of An Age Of Kings adapt Henry V, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring plays.  Possibly part of the reason for its appeal is that, like so many of Shakespeare’s works, it is open to various different interpretations.  It can be played as a straightforward heroic piece (as this adaption does) but it also contains darker sequences which explore both the folly and the bitter consequences of war.

The Henry presented across these two episodes is a fairly unambiguous character (similar to Olivier’s performance in his 1944 film) with many of the more questionable points concerning his conduct either downplayed or cut.  But although there are some trims, the bulk of the play is presented here very well – especially considering the limitations of the television studio.

Shakespeare was obviously aware of the problems that existed in attempting to re-create the battle of Agincourt on stage, so the Chorus appears at the beginning of the play to crave the audience’s indulgence in exercising their imagination.

But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.

Given that this television play would also need to call on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, the Chorus is retained and, as played by William Squire, he is able to take us through the early action and operates as a narrator.  A more filmic dramatisation could have dispensed with this device, but the theatrical nature of this play suits the Chorus well.

Many familiar faces from previous episodes (John Ringham, Frank Windsor, Julian Glover, Jerome Willis, etc) fill out the minor roles and there are also several new faces, most notably Judi Dench as Katherine.  She has a single scene here, played with Stephanie Bidmead, and delivered entirely in French – but she manages to light up the screen even in such a short space of time.

Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s most quotable plays and one of the most famous speeches comes in the middle of this episode.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

This is a speech that defines Henry and Robert Hardy delivers it with passion and relish. The staging of the scene is done very effectively – the camera is placed behind a group of soldiers and Henry stands directly in front of them.  The camera therefore acts as a member of the crowd and the tight nature of the shooting helps to disguise the small scale of the set and the limited number of extras.

By the end of the episode we have reached the conclusion of Act III and the fields of Agincourt beckon.

Next Up – Episode Eight – The Band of Brothers

An Age Of Kings – Episode Six – Uneasy Lies The Head (Henry IV Part Two)

henry iv part 2

Uneasy Lies The Head concludes the tale of Henry IV Part Two.  As the episode opens, a sickly Henry (Tom Fleming) is still awake in the early hours of the morning and muses on why everybody should be asleep but he.

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

As with the previous episodes, Fleming is very good and whilst he doesn’t have a great deal to do (this scene and his deathbed scene are his two main moments) he’s still compelling to watch.

But as with The New Conspiracy the focus of the piece (at the start anyway) is concerned with Falstaff’s misadventures.  But he’s met his comic match when he comes up against Justice Shallow (William Squire).  Squire delivers a fine performance as the fussy, reflective Shallow and he’s one of the highlights of Uneasy Lies The Head.

The heart of the piece, though, is the death of the King and Hal’s elevation to the throne.  Believing the King to be dead, Hal takes away the crown, but Henry still has breath in his body and is dismayed to find his crown missing.  Hal explains his actions (some quality acting here from both Robert Hardy and Tom Fleming) and they are reconciled just before Henry’s death.

Once Hal has become King Henry V there is one important matter to be dealt with – that of Falstaff.  Although I can’t confess to have been greatly enamoured with Frank Pettingell’s performance during the last few episodes, he does manage to capture very well Falstaff’s shock and hurt when Henry publicly disowns him.  Hardy’s delivery here is spot on – and his journey from wastrel Prince to King Henry V is completed.

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream’d of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell’d, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.

As the credits roll, there’s one more surprise.  We see the actors removing their stage clothes and talking amongst themselves whilst the camera gradually focuses on William Squire.  Squire removes the white wig and false nose of Shallow and after the credits have finished he steps forward to deliver the epilogue of the play which promises the return of Falstaff (something which didn’t happen as Shakespeare obviously changed his mind – Falstaff dies off-stage in Henry V).

The breaking of the fourth wall is somehow in keeping with the theatrical tradition of the piece and it’s an interesting conclusion to the episode.

Next up – Episode Seven – Signs of War