12 October 2021 812 Views

What’s Wrong with this Picture? Part 2

by James Murphy

An ongoing new series.

In which I chart the decline of modern storytelling..

To be fair, it’s not just Hollywood. The slow death of culture is not even restricted to film. Case in point? Think British television. American readers, stay with me. It is all relevant or ‘connected’.

This week saw ITV launch a remake of the classic DARLING BUDS OF MAY. They call it: THE LARKINS. Now, some would and indeed do argue that the whole thing is harmless Sunday night entertainment. A return to old school values, not only of the 1990s in which the original series was first broadcast, but throwing all the way back to the 1950s? Life was simpler back then, right?

Well yes. But also, no.

The mistake made by so many period piece television dramas is  propping the idea that somehow, things were ‘better’ in the past. They weren’t. It’s just that we, certainly in Britain, had better strategies for coping with and confronting head on, the daily challenges facing us all. Communities intact. Competences earned. Values clear.

By contrast? The last 30 years has seen a copious abandonment of the societal structures upon which we might once have not only survived, but thrived. We pay those occasional tribute, of course. The odd Jubilee here; a sporting event there. But on the whole? These are times of grave uncertainty and in part because the traditions epitomised by HE Bates’ stories have been all but destroyed. Culture devolved, from nurturing darling ‘buds’, to peddling outright ‘duds’.

Irony of ironies: this new take on the old Larkin family adventures’ has racism all but ignored, swept under the carpet. One character is now black, inexplicably. Fine. Great. Except that does not help abate racist chatter but actively attracts its attentions.

Compare that to both Bates’ stories and the original television series. There was a story arc which taught us all to question and thereby abandon prejudices, in the form of a German visitor to the village idyll.

Remember: this was post war. Tensions still existed. There was also a sense of real struggle to survive from the land and its economies, with harsh threats emerging in many forms in each episode.

The Larkin iteration of David Jason, Pam Ferris and Catherine Zeta Jones confronted those with warmth, class, grace, humour and star power. 

Compare and contrast that with the mediocre cut and paste remake and it all feels like a hollow sixth form am dram tribute act has been thrust upon us. Their new answer to Zeta Jones is being promoted as a big star in waiting. She isn’t. Or if she is, I do not ‘get’ it. Sorry! Catherine as Mariette Larkin practically jumped off screen in talent, presence and timeless beauty. A breath of immediate fresh air. Her successor? Well I leave that to your judgement but she could blend into just about any show on television imho, without much fanfare, other than the one being manufactured now.

They have added sub-text and seemingly controversial race-swap casting too in this new Larkin series. But on the whole it’s a word for word remake of the old version, dressed up without the charisma. Both style and substance: gone!

CORONATION STREET has a similar problem. It is the world’s longest running soap at 60 years plus. And it has moments, still, of warmth, humour and beautiful acting (notably from Sally Dynevor and Sally-Ann Matthews). But it now feels as though the writers simply Googled / wikipedia’d ‘Corrie’ to decode its formula and once again, cut/copy/paste?

The scripts try and replicate the humour and organic wit of old ladies talking over fences, which was key to the appeal of the show from day one. Except they telegraph that quality in a most elongated and exaggerated fashion.

Comedy and filler scenes are thrown in to compensate for an increased emphasis on darkness, crime and conflict. Dipping into ‘issues’ based storylines, though socially helpful in its way, verges on feeling a tad overdone now, its research rushed through. They actually lectured us on ‘unconscious biases’ last week. I just do not buy that as the language of anyone other than academic and media classes. Sorry!

I certainly have never heard such terms down my local boozer. Pubs, generally? = Everyone either knackered post work or escaping wage slavery via pint, pie and possible dance / fruit/slot machine fun on occasion.

Corrie, like ‘Buds’ = once again, another brand, kept on life support, nominally honouring its past. All whilst moving on autopilot toward a still uncertain future, through our apocalyptic present.

Bigger picture, culturally/ cinematically? Well, think soft reboot. Star Wars. Star Trek. Terminator. Now Scream /Home Alone. Not to forget the newly retooled GHOSTBUSTERS (AFTERLIFE).

Take the name. Retool the IP. Pretend a legacy is being preserved and extended rather than simply remade or abandoned. Stunt casting /race/gender/sexuality swaps, galore and not in a truly pastoral key imho.

Throw in some identity politics to create controversy, annoy YouTube wallies and insulate your product from criticism. Retain some older actors but maybe kill them off, mid mentoring speech? Reverse an old line or motif, perhaps giving the screen-time to a new character.

Unearned sentiment, verging on mawkish: neither nostalgic nor truly forward looking. Devoid of innovative skill, grit or original, real world analogy of any utility. And above all: lacking all trace of warmly charismatic charm.

This is the paradigm. It is our cultural tide, worldwide. But there is hope for some genuine reinvention and innovation. Because in time, people will simply demand it.

And entertainment industries thrive when they give the people what they want, rather than what they think we should be content in accepting. Keep the Faith. Everything will be ‘perfick’ 😉 . 


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