CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND: Saturday 19th March, BBC2, 9.30pm
It’s a testament to the last twelve months of Matt Smith’s life that he is now making efforts to avoid becoming thought of as a one-trick pony (despite the fact that the whole TV industry is queuing up to compliment him on the trick in question..)
Bored as we have become of gushing over the new Doctor, it has to be said that his turn in this adaptation of famed author and original Single Man, Christopher Isherwood’s pre-war Berlin memoirs, will be seen as a resounding success. If there’s a better way to break the mould than by playing a gay aristo, then I’d like to see it. Yet Smith isn’t the only thing that the BBC redress here, Nazi Germany has almost exclusively been represented as a place of frog-marching SS Officials, menacing accents and terrifying night-time raids. Even Indiana Jones only just made it out alive. But instead of dominating proceedings, in Christopher And His Kind these sinister developments create a satisfying compliment to the real focus of this one-off drama, which plays out like a scene from Cabaret (another film inspired by the work of Isherwood).
“The truth is that I was going to Berlin for the boys” says Isherwood as the story begins with him reminiscing as an elderly gentleman, and it doesn’t take him long to find them. Fleeing the attentions of his patrician mother and his helpless younger brother, the author chain-smokes his way to Berlin on the invitation of his close friend WH Auden. He is greeted by a community of people enjoying lives of reckless hedonism, but also acutely aware that a storm is coming.
Isherwood slips effortlessly into this world of sexual freedom and soon develops a range of relationships with a similarly well-played cast, including a deliciously lecherous Toby Jones and Imogen Poots as Jean Ross, an exuberant performer blessed with limited means, but undeniable charm and a sharp wit. Such a role must be a dream for many young actresses (“Daahhhlliinngg!!”) but like her colleague, Poots accentuate all the right angles to bring extra verve to what is already a slick screenplay.
As the tale progresses we begin to understand what an anti-hero young Isherwood really is. He speaks candidly about his efforts to extradite his boyfriend from Germany (“I felt bad knowing that so many other men were risking their lives to save the world and I was simply trying to help one man..”) but his charm and lack of attachment make him a rather luke-warm individual. It was certainly a masterstroke to make him a witness to his own history and not a writer living in times of excess and oppression. The usual clichés are nearly all avoided, indeed his famed novel ‘Sally Bowles’ is mentioned only in passing rather than celebrated, turning Christopher And His Kind into more than just a ode to one of Britain’s most underrated authors..