White Heat Review: Lukewarm

WHITE HEAT: Thursday 8th March, BBC2, 9pm

“The past is a foreign countryâ€? is just the kind of literary quotation White Heat’s pretentious protagonist, Jack, would love to spout languorously to some big-eyed bombshell in green tights hanging on his every contrived syllable.

It is also the name of the first episode of this six-part drama series, which tracks the interwoven lives, woes and loves of an eclectic group of seven friends lobbed head-first into each other’s lives from when they move into a student flat in London together in 1965 through to the present day.

From the off, it is clear that this is no subtle observation of the complexities of human relationships. We know the homely Catholic girl’s best friend and potential first crush will most probably turn out to be homosexual, padding around the kitchen in little white pants and immaculate Mediterranean skin, that the doe-eyed Charlotte, posh hippie politico, will play fast and loose with her much-discussed virginity with the first dreamy champagne socialist in a Breton she claps eyes on, and that Victor, sincere and Jamaican, will be the recipient of some strategically-timed racial prejudice.

The weighty chains of historical context hang heavy around the characters’ necks, which slightly remove us from gaining a deeper insight into their personalities and relationships. The first episode – after an initial scene set in present day where some clunky exposition by a solicitor tells us that all the friends lived together in a flat share in their youth – is set in 1965, and it desperately wants us to know it.

Sketchy black and white clips and wireless crackles of Churchill’s funeral, Vietnam, feminism and Ho Chi Minh scurry across the scene at frequent intervals, The Who’s My Generation perpetually blasting out in the background. Orla tells us about jobless Catholics in Belfast, Jay informs us that homosexuality is fairly ruinous after some drunken fumbling, Victor is a prejudice pressure-point due to the colour of his skin, Alan and Lily are our working class Northerners and Jack spews faux-socialist principles between taking his “happy pillsâ€?.

Charlotte is the voice of the sexual revolution. Feeling rather racy after a few pages of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, she hurries to get on the Pill, only to be rather disappointed after her first emancipation when a post-coital Jack (pseudo-Marxist intellectual, son of an MP, living off daddy’s handouts) tells her he’s not interested in “romantic crap about commitment and loveâ€?. Our empowered, feminist heroine is left crestfallen.

The paint-by-numbers 1960s feel is unfortunate, as the characters’ fledgling friendships and the frenetic group dynamic – they are all a little bit in love with one another, but despise each other simultaneously – could be explored deeper if the historical background were not so shallow.

Follow Anoosh on Twitter @anooshchakelian