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Vision, The (1988)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Vision, The (1988)
BBC/WW Entertainment Wales/Polymuse for Screen Two, BBC2, tx. 10/1/1988
105 minutes, colour
DirectorNorman Stone
ProducerDavid Thompson
Written byWilliam Nicholson

Cast: Dirk Bogarde (James Marriner); Lee Remick (Grace Gardner); Eileen Atkins (Helen Marriner); Helena Bonham Carter (Jo Marriner); Paul Maxwell (Bill Freed); Philip O'Brien (Charlie Parrott)

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Former TV personality James Marriner is approached to host a new satellite TV venture, the People Channel. But he soon begins to feel that something sinister lurks behind the channel's friendly image.

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'The Vision' is a genuine curiosity and, thanks to the creative talent assembled on both sides of the camera, a beguiling one. It was made for the BBC's Screen Two strand (1985-98) by David Thompson, Norman Stone and William Nicholson, the producer-director-writer team which cut its teeth on documentaries for the Corporation's religious broadcasting department before moving into drama with Martin Luther, Heritic (tx. 8/11/1983) and the award-winning Shadowlands (tx. 22/11/1985). In 1986 Thompson thought of a story about rightwing Christian fundamentalists setting up a satellite television network in Europe, with the aim of winning a perceived battle for the hearts, minds and political direction of the continent.

The concept was none too fanciful. Russia under Gorbachev was being watched with apprehension by the American right. 'Televangelists' like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson - both mentioned in Nicholson's script - were bashing their Bibles, and fattening their wallets, at peak time. In Britain, media giant Robert Maxwell - also name-checked by Nicholson - was a looming presence. Rupert Murdoch's Sky Channel was about to launch in Ireland. Politicians and broadcasting authorities were being schmoozed, as was the public: there was talk of satellite dishes being handed out for nothing to new customers. And serious attention was being paid to some forceful women on the world and corporate stages.

Events, and those driving them, provided a rich seam for the dramatist, one mined so effectively by Nicholson that his lucid, intelligent and sardonic script enticed an outstanding quartet of principal players: Lee Remick, Eileen Atkins, Helena Bonham Carter and, at their head, Dirk Bogarde, who hadn't acted in a BBC television drama for four decades. He gives a characteristically subtle performance as washed-up former television presenter James 'Gentle Jim' Marriner, who is almost literally seduced into joining the People Channel by its cool, beautiful, obsessive, power-dressed boss, Grace Gardner (Remick).

The blessing of this production, hugely ambitious in scale and scope, is that it never loses sight of the domestic, the quotidian. The scenes involving Marriner's wife Helen (Atkins) and daughter Jo (Bonham Carter) are intensely moving, and are played with a quiet discretion that makes the single eruption of familial fury - when Jo discovers her father's infidelity from the newspapers - all the more lacerating.

Thanks to tight direction, fine performances and a subject that resonates once more in the wake of 2011's media scandals, 'The Vision' belies its years.

John Coldstream

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Video Clips
1. Looking for you (3:41)
2. 'Gentle Jim's Love Bunny' (1:47)
3. Dirt, lies and broken lives (3:53)
4. The last battle (4:13)
Simon and Laura (1955)
Atkins, Eileen (1934-)
Bogarde, Dirk (1921-1999)
Bonham Carter, Helena (1966-)