TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan

“They don’t photograph just anyone you know”

You will of course be aware that it was Helen McCrory Weekend the weekend before last and in recognition of thereof, up popped two related treats: the announcement of her appearing in The Last of the Haussmans with Julie Walters and Rory Kinnear at the National Theatre and a new TV film she was in, We’ll Take Manhattan. I duly caught up with the show on iPlayer this weekend and though she gave an epic performance, I can’t say I cared that much for it.

The show followed the story of David Bailey, Aneurin Barnard in leather jacket, as he emerged as a photographic force to be reckoned with in the early 1960s, shaking up the whole fashion industry with an iconic photo shoot in New York starring his muse Jean Shrimpton, Karen Gillan marking out her possible post-Doctor Who options. McCrory starred as Lady Clare Rendlesham, fashion editor at Vogue and the representative of the old guard that Bailey so detested and wanted to be rid of.

Sporting a wicked bob and some epic clothes, she stole every scene she was in with her icy clipped upper class vowels becoming increasingly strangulated as she lost control over Bailey and Shrimpton and over the shoot she was meant to be leading. Her customary talent meant that we saw much more than just the posh caricature though, losing control here would have repercussions on her assumption of the Vogue editorship that was her birthright and so McCrory never lets us forget there’s more than just a difference of artistic vision at stake here.

But the show around her did not impress or engage me much. Both leads felt a little out of their depths: Aneurin Bernard didn’t really have the charm or charisma I thought her needed, or even the stature to be this inspirational figure, and Karen Gillan as Shrimpton didn’t really convince me that she wasn’t acting in the most restrained of manners as actually not really having the kind of acting range necessary. Her vocal delivery felt really quite stilted, and with his abrasive Laaahn-daahn accent, their scenes together were quite painful to listen to and dull to watch as little chemistry was evident between the two.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that this isn’t a period that interests me that much all told, but I do think that the programme wasn’t the best written, or put together. So little of substance was actually explored: Jean’s upheaval from her family life dealt with most cursorily and her youth never commented on, the shift between old and new made ridiculously simple by having only Lady Clare be the stick-in-the-mud and everyone else being forward-thinking and although this was a show about a photographer and a model, there were just too many sequences of larking about and photo-taking at the expense of actual drama.

Still, there was a great supporting cast of familiar faces to be pleased by: Frances Barber gave an amusingly theatrical Diana Vreeland, Alex Jennings a patronising editor, Anna Chancellor as a very old-school model agent and Robert Glenister as Jean’s strict father. Perhaps those who are fans of the swinging Sixties would have found more to enjoy in this but McCrory aside, it made little impression.

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