Sad times at BBC Four. Their stunning Burton and Taylor film (which screened earlier this week) is set to be a farewell of sorts.
“We were aware that the last BBC4 film was due and we wanted to make a splash with it,” executive producer Jessica Pope said, confirming what many had suspected- that this would be BBC 4’s last ever original drama. And so it's time to mourn the end of a unique era of programming for the BBC.
The subjects of the BBC 4 dramas were deeply flawed, kitchen-sink celebrities who existed on the small screen and who had been curdled into unfamiliar shapes by their fame. The best of the one-off mini-films were seaside postcards of a very British sort of fame, that existed between the 40s and the 70s. The stories concerned the lives of fallible stars, before there was such a known disconnect between their public personas and their personal ones, where "light entertainment" referred to anything but. As Ben Lawrence wrote in his excellent Telegraph article; “these were not subjects thought fit for the conventional cinema biopic; they were not kings and queens, great artists or musicians.”
So we had Michael Sheen starring as the curmudgeonly comic in Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!, Ruth Jones as Hattie Jacques in Hattie whose affair with a younger lover got seriously weird when she moved him in to her marital home (while her husband was still there) and Julia Davies and The League Of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss as Fanny Craddock and her put upon husband Johnnie, in Fear Of Fanny. Burton and Taylor continued the exploration of characters who were eaten alive by their own fame and couldn't see beyond it.
Whilst we can’t quite believe Burton and Taylor is the last one from BBC Four, their influence lives on. It can be seen in any recent celebrity biopic that was worth its salt from The Iron Lady to Behind The Candelabra. Long live the spirit of BBC Four!