Broadcast just over a year before Tony Blair reached Downing Street, Our Friends in the North (BBC, 1996) is a study of change, corruption, success and failure at both the personal and the political level. Our Friends... is ultimately a character-led drama, boasting strong performances from an ensemble cast. Unlike many depictions of the North-East, it has fully rounded characters with authentic regional accents. It's clearly a real place, not a generic 'up North'. Newcastle, in transition from industrial port to gentrified docklands, is in marked contrast to the noirish shadows of The Clouded Yellow (d. Ralph Thomas, 1950) or the grim vistas of Get Carter (d. Mike Hodges, 1971).
Writer Peter Flannery's original stage version ended in 1982; given the 14 years it took to get the story onto the small screen, he decided to bring the four main characters up to date, writing now from a middle-aged perspective.
Central character Nicky (Christoher Eccleston) has metamorphosed from fresh-faced idealist to angry activist; from would-be MP to cynical academic. Ultimately he returns home to bury his mother Florrie, and to attempt to draw his father Felix (Peter Vaughan) from the cocoon of Alzheimer's. Nicky's attempted reconciliation with Mary (Gina McKee) and their ultimate embrace can be viewed as an affirmation of love or an act of desperation.
Of the four main protagonists, only Tosker (Mark Strong) seems happy with his lot - having developed from well-meaning buffoon to proto-Thatcherite to contented family man over the course of the series, Tosker has now mellowed to the extent that he admits the now down-and-out Geordie (Daniel Craig) into both his home and his show-band.
In Geordie we see the most extreme transformation, from dapper man-about-town to complete derelict. Recently released from prison, and struggling back from the brink of alcoholism and mental illness, Geordie is resigned to a life on the streets. Taking it upon himself to intervene in the relationship between teenage joyrider Sean and his gangster father, he fails to stop the child from roaring off to an early death in a stolen car, and then fails to be admitted into the opening night of Tosker's new club. After Florrie's wake, he moves on. "Don't Look Back In Anger," wails the soundtrack as Geordie looks down on Tosker in the bosom of his family, and strides out across the Tyne Bridge and into an uncertain future.
*This programme is the subject of a BFI TV Classics book by Michael Eaton.