Sunday, 6 July 2014

DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall

"She is a strumpet"

I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this for ages now, having picked up the DVD in Chichester for a snip, and having recently seen Jessie Wallace on stage and a date with Richard Armitage coming soon at the Old Vic, it seemed as good a time as any to delve into this 80 minute drama looking at the life and times of music hall superstar Marie Lloyd. Sadly, it should probably have lingered on the shelf a good while longer along with all the other charity shop bargains as I found it quite a disappointing bit of television.

For me its main problem lies in its format. Having avoided being a straight-up biopic, James Hawes’ production (written by Martyn Hesford, although he is curiously uncredited on the DVD) opts for a fantasia, gliding from scene to scene with little connective tissue giving us the context of the 30 odd years that are passing by. So we get the highlights of this remarkable woman’s life but nothing else –marriage, motherhood, divorce, remarriage, industrial action, public ruin, scandalous affair, boom boom boom – everything gets five minutes and then we move swiftly on.

Which means little to no depth ever really comes through the film. Jessie Wallace is often tremendous as this most vibrant of performers and forthright of women, but the script gives her so little to work on in actually telling us who she was. Wallace delivers the music hall routines well – the marvellous Hoxton Hall gets a lot of airtime – but it’s just not enough for a lead character. And there’s little real sense of time passing, I was quite surprised to find out from the accompanying interview that nearly 40 years had passed! 

And unsurprisingly the supporting roles get short shrift as well. Richard Armitage and Matthew Marsh occasionally break through as the husbands to give tantalising hints of what it might have been like to be married to a far more successful partner, the ever-excellent Amanda Root is fun as the Mary Whitehouse of the day, and Tom Payne does petulant brilliantly as a toyboy lover. But it is hard not to want more from a biographical piece than the slim pickings on offer here.

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