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Holding On (1997)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Holding On (1997)
BBC2, 8/9-21/10/1997
8 x 60 minutes, colour
DirectorAdrian Shergold
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerDavid Snodin
ScriptTony Marchant
PhotographyPeter Middleton
MusicNick Bicât

Cast: David Morrissey (Shaun); Phil Daniels (Gary Rickey); Lesley Manville (Hilary); Treva Etienne (Lloyd); Emily Hamilton (Tina); Meera Syal (Zita); Ellen Thomas (Florrie); Ahsen Bhatti (Zahid); Freddie Annobil Dodoo (Marcus); David Calder (Werner); Sam Kelly (Bernard)

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A number of disparate individuals struggle to live their lives on the mean streets of contemporary London.

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Holding On (BBC, 1997) was Tony Marchant's first significant project for television, an eight-part drama set in London, following disparate characters and exploring in complex detail personal responsibility and how it becomes threatened in a society which has been told by Margaret Thatcher it no longer exists. It remains just as relevant after years of New Labour rule.

Holding On turns a critical eye on modern British society: Alan's (Sean Gallagher) story emphasises the lack of provision for mental health patients; bright DJ Chris (Razaaq Adoti) and his sister Janet (Diane Parish) highlight the lack of facilities for bright black youths; all the characters reveal the gap between what people say and what they do; what happens when urban isolation meets a 'me first' mindset. Marchant's characters are joyously complex human beings and the actors who play them are thoroughly convincing. It's unusual in such a large cast not to have one false note.

The series' core themes are blame and responsibility, but the drama is not without humour, provided most obviously by restaurant critic Gary Rickey (Phil Daniels) as he travels the capital, spitting bile and saliva at all the top gastronomic eateries in town. Everyone is looking for something - or someone - to blame for the position they find themselves in. But just when we think a situation is black and white, Marchant reveals the grey area which that makes us question our judgment. Werner's (David Calder) tax fraud case, for example, seems cut and dry until Shaun's wife (Caroline Harker) turns a blind eye to her childminder's petty fiddling. Where do you draw a line between good, bad and really bad? Shaun's (David Morrissey) collapse reminds us that we are all self-deceivers who are susceptible to corruption.

Adrian Shergold's direction is masterful, swooping and rolling around London, making the city a central character. A stream of plausibly conceived coincidences allow a fluid shift of focus as the plot moves from one character to an unconnected other within the same scene. The camera is often placed in unusual positions to challenge our perspective but the drama's visual style never becomes more important than its characters. Holding On deservedly won an RTS award for Best Drama Serial in 1998.

Emma Perry

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Video Clips
1. Gary's monologue (3:29)
2. Life versus music (3:17)
3. Werner turns the tables (9:17)
Complete episode 3 (52:58)
Our Friends in the North (1996)
Bhatti, Ace (1970-)
Daniels, Phil (1958-)
Etienne, Treva (1965-)
Firth, Peter (1953-)
Morrissey, David (1964-)
Syal, Meera (1962-)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )