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Long Roads, The (1993)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Long Roads, The (1993)
BBC/Freeway Films for Screen Two
BBC, tx. 31/1/1993
90 minutes, colour
DirectorTristram Powell
ProducerPeter Kendal
ScriptJohn McGrath
PhotographySteve Saunderson

Cast: Edith Macarthur (Kitty McVurrich); Robert Urquhart (Peter McVurrich); Anne Marie Timoney (Mandy McVurrich); Michelle Fairley (Fiona Gibbons); Kevin McMonagle (Roddie McVurrich); John McGlynn (Iain McVurrich); Maureen Beattie (Deidre Kopanski); Louise Beattie (Mairi McVurrich)

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An elderly couple leave their small farm on the Isle of Skye to visit, for the last time, each of their children, who has settled in a different British city.

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John McGrath considered The Long Roads (BBC, tx. 31/1/1993) to be among his best work; it is certainly one of his most personal pieces. Like much of McGrath's work, it takes the form of a journey, fittingly for a man who spent a large part of his life touring Britain with his theatre company, 7:84.

McGrath had the idea for the play in his head for many years, finally writing it down following the deaths of his own parents. Most contemporary reviewers were critical of what they saw as a rather obvious device for examining the differences in British society, but it is a wonderfully simple way to explore the problems of urban living, the generation gap and the disappearance of a whole way of life.

All of the critics agreed, however, that the late flowering of the relationship between the parents was the emotional heart of the piece, and were moved by it. In fact, although the film begins strongly as a critique of contemporary British life, with all its poverty, selfishness, crime and apathy, it turns into a study of Peter and Kitty and their joyful rediscovery of each other after a long marriage. Robert Urquhart and Edith MacArthur are superb in the roles, and Peter's final outburst, "God, why do you make the world so beautiful and then make us leave it?" is heart-rending. His question could be ironic, as he - and we - have just witnessed a most imperfect world, but he is gazing out over Skye as he says it, and he has, belatedly, rekindled his love for his wife. McGrath is probably not being ironic here.

McGrath has gentle fun at the expense of the cultural differences between Scottish crofters and wordly city folk, but his eye and ear for harsh reality, first demonstrated in the 1960s in Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), does not desert him here, and the early scenes in Glasgow and Liverpool are reminiscent of that ground-breaking series.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Visiting Iain (2:51)
2. Fiona (3:16)
3. Waiting for Roddie (3:11)
4. Deidre and Mairi (3:11)
McGrath, John (1935-2002)