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Wednesday 7 June 2023

Let It Burn

I've been watching the three part BBC series The Gallows Pole, a Shane Meadows version of the novel by Ben Myers, based on the true story of a group of poverty stricken workers in 18th century West Yorkshire running a coin counterfeiting scam. Shane Meadows version is huge fun, with some familiar Shane Meadows tropes- an ensemble cast of actors with regional accents, many scenes that appear improvised, copious swearing (and I mean copious fucking swearing on an industrial fucking scale) and some very strong female characters. Shane Meadows approaches period drama as if people were the same then as they are now, just in different clothing and it's a very refreshing take on the past- in one of the scenes the unemployed weavers and farm workers discusses the behaviour of the royal family, concluding 'fuck the king'. 

The lead character and coin clipper David Hartley appears at the start of each episode in dreamlike visions with stagmen (all of whom have thick northern accents). At the start of episode one he stumbles around the moors in the mist, a stab wound in his side, the stagmen appearing out of the gloom. The soundtrack is equally striking, a mixture of weird, old English folk, traditional ballads and broadsides, early 70s rock from the likes of The Groundhogs and blistering modern psyche- rock. The opening titles are a blend of 18th century unemployment and 60s psychedelia, men with stag's heads, trippy swirls and distorted guitars. 

Each of the three episodes finishes with this song from 2018 by mystic Swedish psyche rockers Goat, a riot of super fuzzed guitar, a drummer running round the kit, spindly lead lines, wailing vox, a flute solo and some hair raising distorted wah wah. 

Let It Burn


Ernie Goggins said...

Thanks for the tip-off, will definitely check it out.

Rol said...

Only watched the first two (I thought there were 4, bit disappointed to hear it's only 3) but I've loved every minute. The chemistry between the two lead actors is amazing. I would happily watch a sitcom with them just improv-arguing for half an hour every week.

The critics haven't really got it... but I guess that's because most of them are southerners. Shane Meadows should be put in charge of all BBC period dramas from now on as far as I'm concerned.

Martin said...

Just added to the ever-spiralling iPlayer watchlist, cheers.

Nick L said...

Finished this last night. As you say, all the familiar Meadows tropes were present and correct, as well as a great soundtrack but I have to say, for me the first episode took a while to get going. The second and third were much better, but not much actually HAPPENED did it? No major plot twist, no unexpected outcome. Good fun, but nowhere near the same league as Dead Man's Shoes, Twenty Four Seven or This Is England. I plan on reading the book though, which will be an interesting comparison.

Swiss Adam said...

Agree Nick- the 1st episode was a bit slow in places and knowing a bit about the story I did wonder how at the start of the 3rd they were going to fit it all in- which they didn't obviously. Like you, I'll read the book.

Anonymous said...

Very disappointed, as i have been a fan of Shane Meadows work. Improvisation works when actors are immersed in the characters. Here i often noted the worried look of actors not knowing what to say. Then either just repeating what had been said ('he's come from Birmingham') or just swearing by default. It's a shame because the book is a fascinating story.

Adam Turner said...

I get what you're saying SRC, there were a few moments where the impro seemed a bit too impro but overall I really enjoyed it.

Khayem said...

I somehow managed to miss this altogether. It was only an accidental flick on TV last Sunday (I think) and seeing Vicky McClure and Thomas Turgoose on Sunday Brunch that alerted me that it was on.

Funnily enough (though unsurprisingly given their form with Meadows), there was a lot of chat about the improv nature of the series. McClure made an interesting comment along the lines that it was a method she was very comfortable with but not for everyone. I took this to refer to actors in general but judging by SRC's comment, she may have been making a subtle reference to some of her on-set colleagues!

Looking forward to catching up with the series.