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  Cold Lazarus Reality Or Nothing
Year: 1996
Director: Renny Rye
Stars: Albert Finney, Frances de la Tour, Grant Masters, Ciarán Hinds, Henry Goodman, Ganiat Kasumu, Carmen Ejogo, Saffron Burrows, Diane Ladd, Anna Chancellor, Joe Roberts, Tara Woodward, Rob Brydon, Jonathan Cake, Roy Hudd, Guy Masterson, Donald Sumpter
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, TV SeriesBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in the mid-nineteen-nineties, writer Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney) knew he was dying so to preserve himself he had the idea of having his head frozen via cryogenics in the hope that he would be revived sometime in the future. And so it is that almost four hundred years later, a group of scientists are experimenting with his head in the hope that they can access his memories, with promising results. When an image of a group of people standing over Daniel's body appears, the scientists, led by Professor Emma Porlock (Frances de la Tour), rejoice, and when later they manage to see and hear footage of a football match, they know they have made a breakthrough...

When Dennis Potter was nearing death, such was his esteem within the television industry that he had made his name in, often controversially, that his proposal for a linked pair of series that he wrote to be shown on both the BBC and Channel 4 was accepted by both parties. They were called Karaoke, which was broadcast first on the BBC, and Cold Lazarus, a science fiction work for Channel 4, although each channel showed them both after their initial broadcast on their collaborator's channel. Taking pride of place in the schedule on a Sunday night, they were to be the last works Potter ever produced, as he died of cancer soon after completing them, so audiences were expecting something special, after all they were presented as true event television.

Where Karaoke had been more traditional territory for Potter, and immediately recognisable as his work, Cold Lazarus was a different kettle of fish. Potter had evidently wondered, as many do, what the world would be like after his death, so to that end created a futuristic dystopia where the media ran everything and terrorism was the only way that an increasingly unruly public saw of hitting back against the system. For a writer who put so much of himself into his series and plays, it was the ideal way of representing how he would live on through that work, as generations of interested parties for years hence would dip into it and experience how Potter viewed the world, a device that was shown here as the scientists literally taking what they wanted out of Feeld's memories.

Yet the overall impression of Potter's opinion of the future here was that he did not want any part of it, and was glad not be living through it. Feeld's last words are heard to be "No biography!", as if allowing a writer's work to be given up to the events after their creator's death is a step too far in relinquishing control. Although Feeld appears onscreen as a disembodied head (Finney had to endure over four hours of makeup to look this blue and crusty), his character actually is more incidental, more representational of the plight of the artist who allows his work to be taken out of his hands, either to producers, presenters, or even the consumers. This possessiveness doesn't sit too well with the viewer of Cold Lazarus, and indeed the series saw its audience figures dwindle over the weeks.

Watching it now, it's clear why Potter had not attempted anything in science fiction before, as he did not have a particular flair for it, apparently seeing the genre as a soapbox to pontificate from rather than a way of exploring imagination and ideas not easily attained in other styles. The effect is deadening, with every scene groaning under the writer's heavy hand; the attempts at humour, as if Potter were growing aware of how thumpingly hectoring this story was becoming, are little better and he even had the characters laughing at the jokes in lieu of anybody watching the programme doing so. The sci-fi aspects include hovercars and a curious chair arrangement that move their passengers around a room when they could just as easily walk, all part of how silly this appeared in comparison with other, more adept examples of the genre. With too much caricature, and an ugly look to the series, it's sad to think a rewrite and a script polish might have done it the power of good, but was beyond Potter's ability by the time it was broadcast, two years after his demise. Music by Christopher Gunning.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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