Shiny Shelf

Bouquet of Barbed Wire

By Jim Smith on 07 September 2010

‘Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ was one of the television events of 1976. It was, if truth be told, not terribly good. Adjectives that spring immediately to mind include “laboured”, “ludicrous” and “po-faced”. Its bed-hopping narrative (which led Clive James to remark that by its end it seemed that every character had had sex with every other character, thankfully excluding the baby) was seen, in its day, as ‘edgy’, rather than ’sleazy’. What’s more this was because, rather than as one might more sensibly expect despite, one of the characters being a middle aged man nursing an incestuous obsession with his daughter, albeit one that was conveyed through longing glances and lingering camera shots of said daughter Prue (Susan Penhaligon).

The programme was essentially one of those dramas of sexual tension that were common in the gap between the conceptual liberations of the 1960s and television stations actually being able to show sexualised nudity on the small screen some umpty years later. It was also very much part of that now incredibly odd and uncomfortable mid 1970s notion of sexual morality. You know the one. It was eviscerated brilliantly in ‘The Ice Storm’ and unselfconsciously espoused by as unlikely candidates as the last episode of ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’. (In which Thelma treats Bob’s repeated attempts at adultery with the level of disapproval you’d more likely imagine being directed at someone who forgot their keys or stayed at the pub for an hour longer than they’d promised.)

This subject matter, and the presence of the ever remarkable Frank Finlay in the cast (playing said Father, naturally) granted the series a notoriety which then begat a fame that it didn’t really deserve. This is presumably why, thirty four years later, ITV have decided to make the series again.

ITV’s current version isn’t really a remake, of course. It’s another adaptation of the same source material, with both series being based on Andrea Newman’s  novel (1968). This may seem a small point and it is, but the constant misuse of terms such as ‘remake’, ’sequel’, ‘prequel’ and ‘reboot’ is increasingly getting on your correspondent’s wick. We need to delineate these terms properly and use them consistently or no one will not what the hell anyone else is talking about anymore. (Which, of course, we increasingly don’t.)

On the one hand, we should applaud ITV for making drama that isn’t a soap opera or based on something by Agatha Christie but I can see precious little innovation or interest in revisiting a not terribly good novel which was made into a notorious but fundamentally third tier television series from the year Harold Wilson left office.

(I agree, absolutely, that ITV should make more programmes of the kind it did in the 1970s. This is a process that would involve, surely, making more single plays and new dramas, taking risks on new writers and, quite simply *making a lot more drama than they currently do* rather than picking a random success of the 1970s and doing it again with mobile phones.)

At the centre of this new version is Trevor Eve (as the obsessive Father) with Hermione Norris as his sexy, long suffering wife. (Norris is sixteen years Eve’s junior, which continues yet another tedious television tradition.) Imogen Poots is a chirpy, appealing but rather wet Prue. Tom Riley simpers and sneers as Prue’s unsuitable beau Gavin.

The new series seeks to play on the original’s notoriety in a dozen creepy ways, playing on the 76 version’s reputation with cuts that are meant to call to mind the implicit incest the series was known for. “Shall we?” says Prue with a lascivious grin at one point, after she’s had to accompany her Father to a networking do. (She, of course, means “Shall we illicitly go ten pin bowling?”) At another she sends him a text which reads ”Daddy, I’ve been SINFUL” because she’s bunked off school.

Yes, that’s “school”. Another way in which ‘Bouquet’ tries to be edgy is by revising down Prue’s age. She’s now a sixth former rather than a university student and her unsuitable lover is now her creepy emo twentysomething English teacher rather than a stereotypical 70s ghastly American (although that he resembles, emotionally and physically, her Father is repeatedly invoked). It is all really rather sordid, to be honest. The script is blunt and hugely unimpressive and some of the dialogue is absolutely skin-crawling (“You don’t look like a woman whose bell is being rung on a regular basis!” is one particularly accidentally tittersome line. “I have bruises on my thighs” is another. There are no deliberate jokes in the production. )

One of those things that, while you’re watching it, you can’t help but be deeply suspicious of the reaction the production is trying to evoke. Is the audience supposed to be getting off on this tale of a bitter middle aged man lusting after his daughter and boffing a new girl from his office as a substitute as his wife prepares to leap into bed with her daughter’s husband, while fighting off her own husband’s business partner?  I think so. And isn’t that, well, a bit creepy? It’s not like this is a series which is seriously investigating the social issues it occasionally glances at on its way to another, oddly perfunctory, sex scene.

Quite what actors of the sheer calibre of Eve, Jemima Rooper (as Eve’s assistant) and Syliva Syms (who cameos as Eve’s institutionalised Mother) are doing in this voyeuristic, and almost sinister, nonsense I’ve really no idea. Utter Tripe.

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