TV Review: Nolly

Russell T Davies works his customary magic in Nolly, an entertaining biopic of Crossroads star Noele Gordon

“I did an episode of Rentaghost last week”

Truth be told, long-running but long-expired soap Crossroads is a thing of lore to me. I have long adored Acorn Antiques in and of itself perfectly fine, without ever having seen an episode of its inspiration but I have to say in watching Nolly, I’m even more in admiration of how Victoria Wood so perfectly lampooned its on- and off-stage drama. Nolly however comes from the pen of Russell T Davies and as it covers the final years of Noele Gordon’s life and career, it proves a far gentler love letter to the era.

From 1964 through to the 1980s, Crossroads was one of Britain’s most popular TV shows and Noele Gordon was its matriarch, both on screen as motel owner Meg and behind the scenes as the self-proclaimed ruler of the roost. In 1981 though, Gordon was unceremoniously fired despite being at the height of her fame and Nolly traces her journey from that point, examining how the TV industry – and to some extent society as a whole – treated women d’un certain âge, heck all women for that matter.

Helena Bonham Carter is fruitily good fun as Gordon, a vision of blowsy confidence in public but revealed as something more brittle in private. As ‘Mother’ to her castmates, we see her reworking scripts, plot points and directorial angles to her own liking, blithely ignoring those she’s rubbing up the wrong way, particularly Con O’Neill’s producer Jack Barton to her peril. And we also see the importance of too-rare-in-her-life tender friendship and faghaggery with co-star Tony Adams, an appealing Augustus Prew.

Once the axe swings, there comes a painstakingly slow realisation that nearly 20 years at the head of a soap counts for little in terms of where her career might move onto. An attempt at heading a production of Gypsy is hard work; chats with her similarly aged pal Larry Grayson (Mark Gatiss) some relief but as he’s headed into retirement, no real help; and the constant love from her adoring fans, bemused why she would ever have been fired, is both a blessing and a curse, both feeding and crushing her ego.

It’s most likely a terribly rose-tinted view of Gordon, there’s too little sense of how tyrannical her reign might well have been as she was increasingly indulged by those around her but that’s not really the point here. Nolly is all about warm affection for a singular figure but also a singular point in TV history, the naffness of shows made on the tightest of budgets now faded under a nostalgic glow. And as such, it’s a highly enjoyable couple of hours.

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