“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”
Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.
Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.
Both timezones were beautifully realised. The hopeful youthfulness of the 50s scenes were perfectly captured by Maimie McCoy and Rory Kinnear (with some appalling hair), him determined to do anything, no matter how ill-advised, for his beloved and her trying to ensure she didn’t end up like her mother (an archetypal but still excellent performance from a purse-lipped Phoebe Nicholls) yet unable to really break through the emotional repression of the age. This was reinforced by older Joyce, a wonderful turn from Francesca Annis all bitter recrimination and sharp edges and all too close to the matriarch she was trying to escape, but one who jumped at the chance at a second bite of the cherry as Wood’s creative license made Hatto a witting accomplice in the fraud.
The real life Barrie (still alive) is adamant that she never knew a thing but Wood’s evocation of the man, played with astounding sensitivity by Alfred Molina, as someone willing to do anything for his wife in her final months and a man somehow lost in the fantastical world he had created has a deep tragedy about him. The way in which he struggles to break the old routines after her death, his determination to protect her reputation, the depth of his love for his wife, it all made for an emotionally disturbing ending that lingered long in the mind. Victoria Wood really is building a considerable case for her work as a dramatist to be taken as seriously as her comedy – iPlayer it now.