Sat. Apr 20th, 2024
alert-–-christopher-stevens:-if-this-is-what-the-1980s-were-really-like,-maybe-they’re-best-forgotten!Alert – CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: If this is what the 1980s were really like, maybe they’re best forgotten!

 This Town

Rating:

Teenagers, on no account hang on to your diaries and journals as you grow up. Bin them. If you don’t, one day you will surely suffer an excruciating embarrassment . . . hearing someone read your adolescent poetry aloud.

Few things can be more blood-curdling. It’s bad enough if your mum discovered those verses when you were 17 — how much worse would it be if your own children found them 30 years later?

You can only feel pity for Dante (Levi Brown), whose inner poetry voice supplies the narration for This Town (BBC1), a coming-of-age drama set amid the ska music scene of Birmingham and Coventry in the early 1980s.

‘I love you baby, I can’t quite say it/ If I had a heart I’d bloody play it,’ he inwardly recites, mooching heartbroken around the streets of Handsworth after a girl at college turned down his plea for a date.

Michelle Dockery stars as Estella in This Town. The coming-of-age drama is set amid the ska music scene of Birmingham and Coventry in the early 1980s

Michelle Dockery stars as Estella in This Town. The coming-of-age drama is set amid the ska music scene of Birmingham and Coventry in the early 1980s

Dockery with co-star Ben Rose who plays Brandon Quinn. Steven Knight, the 65-year-old creator of Peaky Blinders, intends this six-part drama as a fond celebration of the West Midlands

Dockery with co-star Ben Rose who plays Brandon Quinn. Steven Knight, the 65-year-old creator of Peaky Blinders, intends this six-part drama as a fond celebration of the West Midlands

As he wanders into a street riot, with cars on fire and bricks flying, the doggerel continues: ‘Before I saw you, I didn’t know it/ But now I discover I’m not a bad poet.’

Thankfully, at this point someone lobs a petrol bomb in Dante’s direction. You can’t say he didn’t deserve it.

Steven Knight, the 65-year-old creator of Peaky Blinders, intends this six-part drama as a fond celebration of the West Midlands, where he spent his adolescent years. He’s got some funny ideas about nostalgia — what he remembers most affectionately is the violence and the crime. That explains why he revered his fictional gangster clan, the Shelbys.

Dante’s brother Gregory (Jordan Bolger) is caught up in another riot, on the Falls Road in Belfast. Both young men are daydreamers, with a tendency to forget the fighting and listen to birdsong instead.

Meanwhile, their cousin Michael, a champion Riverdancer in Coventry’s insular Irish community, is being dragged into IRA activity by his leather-coated father, Eamonn (Peter McDonald), who is more interested in the money-making potential of organised terror than the bombing.

Dockery and Rose in This Town. There’s a strong soundtrack from Desmond Dekker, UB40, Toots and the Maytals, and other reggae acts of the era

Dockery and Rose in This Town. There’s a strong soundtrack from Desmond Dekker, UB40, Toots and the Maytals, and other reggae acts of the era

You might feel, with some justification, that the troubled home life of terrorists and their families is a dubious choice for a BBC drama. Knight is good, though, at depicting the moral complexities of lives caught up in violent crime without always glorifying it (though certainly he sometimes does).

Dante, Gregory and Michael are all mad about music, and there’s a strong soundtrack from Desmond Dekker, UB40, Toots and the Maytals, and other reggae acts of the era.

There are flashes of bitter humour, too: a riot girl setting her petrol-drenched sleeve ablaze when she lights a joint, children laughing as a squaddie aims his rifle at them and shouts, ‘Bang-bang!’

But if this is the best nostalgia 1981 has to offer, maybe it’s best forgotten.