A young Daniel Craig gives a brilliant performance in "Our Friends in the North"
In 1996, the BBC produced a nine-part miniseries called Our Friends in the North. In approximately ten hours of airtime, the story of four chums from Newcastle plays out. From 1964 to 1995, Nicky, Tosker, Geordie, and Mary live their lives from age twenty to fifty.
Swirling around them, heavily influencing their choices and destinies, are the politics of Britain through those years, and particularly the events that ripped through Northern England, such as a miners’ strike. A powerful theme is the political corruption that resulted in the faulty construction of high-rise apartment buildings that endangered residents’ health and had to be torn down after years of complaints. Government and police corruption is rampant.
The writing by Patrick Flannery, a native of Newcastle himself who based some of the script on his own experiences, is always perceptive and at times extraordinary drama. A decade later, Flannery created and wrote the Inspector George Gently series which so many British detective show fans admire.
The cast, both the leads and those who play secondary characters, include some of Britain’s best. Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, Gina McKee, and Daniel Craig play the foursome. Their casting helped to launch their very fruitful careers. For American audiences, Daniel Craig will draw the most attention. His character, Geordie Peacock, is the son of a drunken brute. Of any character in the series, his is the most formidable and the most pathetic. As Geordie, Craig goes through several transformations, one more dramatic than the next. And remember, this is a full decade before Craig took on the role of James Bond in Casino Royale.
Many of the character and secondary actors will be recognizable to British TV fans. Peter Vaughan, Alun Armstrong, Daniel Casey from Midsomer Murders, Tony Haygarth. Youi’ll know their faces. Malcolm McDowell, who starred in Lindsay Anderson’s If… in 1968 and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in 1971, appears as a Soho pornography king. McDowell is celebrated today for the Kubrick film and a later appearance in Star Trek: Generations. But his work in Our Friends in the North came at a time when he was rebuilding his career after a lengthy bout with alcohol and cocaine. His wrinkled face shows the real-life challenges McDowell had suffered just a few years before and adds to the veracity of his mobster role.
As the episodes unfold, with the titles 1964, 1966, 1969, all the way up to 1995, it’s evident that the lives of the four friends are most often challenging and at times painful, sometimes worth celebrating. Flannery is not shy about testing his viewers’ stamina with scenes of illnesses, difficult marriages, brutality, money problems, career failures, and love loss. But the series also shows some of life’s high points, although in a much more subtle manner than its struggles. Clearly, life was no bowl of cherries for Newcastle folks in those years.
Our Friends in the North is available for streaming on Brit-Box and on disc.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and retired appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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