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Lakes, The (1997-99)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Lakes, The (1997-99)
BBC1, tx. 14/9/1997 - 14/3/1999
14 episodes in 2 series, colour
CreatorJimmy McGovern
Production CompanyBBC
ProducersCharles Pattinson, Matthew Bird
WritersJimmy McGovern, Joe Ainsworth, Julie Rutherford, William Gaminara

Cast: John Simm (Danny Kavanagh); Emma Cunliffe (Emma Kavanagh); Mary Jo Randle (Bernie Quinlan); Paul Copley (Peter Quinlan); Robert Pugh (Father Matthew); Elizabeth Bennett (Doreen Archer); Kaye Wragg (Lucy Archer); Charles Dale (Chef); Samantha Seager (Julie)

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Danny Kavanagh, unemployed, broke and with a gambling addiction, moves to the Lake District in search of work, but finds love and tragedy as he tries to make a new home in hostile surroundings.

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The Lakes atypically explores author Jimmy McGovern's recurring themes of addiction, class conflict and Catholic guilt away from his usual urban setting. The basic premise is partly autobiographical: in his youth McGovern, like central character Danny Kavanagh, left Liverpool and worked in a Lake District hotel. It was there that he met his wife Eileen, and their life back in Liverpool was also strained, like that of Danny and his young wife Emma, by his gambling problem. Unlike McGovern, however, Danny returns to live in the village.

Kavanagh has poetic leanings (he reads Gerard Manley Hopkins in voice-over) and is presented as an essentially good man, but one hounded by a dark destiny (symbolised by the sonic boom of a military jet that periodically casts its shadow over the landscape in times of trouble). His fatal flaw is his gambling compulsion and it becomes central to series one's narrative when a call to his bookie distracts him as three schoolgirls row out on the lake unsupervised, with tragic consequences.

Danny becomes the scapegoat for the villagers' grief and guilt, but he is not the only one marginalised by family or the village community. Bernie, Emma's pious and devout mother, is thrust into emotional turmoil when she falls in love with Father Matthew and is made pregnant by him. The love scenes between her and Matthew are probably the most intimate and tender in the series, thankfully undercutting the second series' disappointing tendency towards overripe melodrama. McGovern by then had reduced his involvement in the show. Storylines now emphasised the format's soap opera elements, with coincidences and family entanglements often stretching credulity to breaking point. A subplot in which the schoolteacher murders his wife and then dithers over disposing of the body is over-extended and treated mostly as farce.

The show from the outset courted controversy with its coarse language, earthy humour and explicit sex scenes (mainly involving the insanely libidinous chef). Although sometimes unconvincingly ratcheted up for the second season (new plot strands included lesbianism, gang rape and castration), this approach did also pay dividends, as in the extraordinary scene in which the Bishop (Anthony Newley, in one of his final performances) tries to convince Bernie to have an abortion. This willingness to attack difficult subjects, like hypocrisy within the church, coupled with the brooding power of the first season, made The Lakes one of McGovern's most enduring achievements.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. A theory about Scousers (1:58)
2. A bit of a problem (3:22)
3. Absent father (3:23)
4. Confession (2:01)
Complete first episode (1:27:15)
McGovern, Jimmy (1949-)
Simm, John (1971-)