Reviews

Really Desperate Housewives: 'Tenko: The Complete Second Series'

The trajectory of the characters’ experiences is moving and powerful and reflects upon the fracturing of established beliefs and social values during wartime and imprisonment.


Tenko

Network: BBC TV
Creator: Lavinia Warner
Cast: Jean Anderson, Stephanie Beacham, Stephanie Cole, Bert Kwouk, Patricia Lawrence
Directors: David Tucker, Jeremy Summers
Writers: Jill Hyem, Anne Valery
Distributor: Acorn
UK release date: 2011-07-04
Amazon

The word ‘landmark’ is often used to describe television series. Sometimes it is misplaced, but in the case of the BBC’s '80s prison camp drama Tenko' it's probably appropriate. It's one of those television pieces that ages well enough. It doesn't feel too dated even now, and one can actually become absorbed in the drama without too many distractions, such as the trademark BBC clunky scenery of that era. I say probably because this is great, but it is flawed greatness. The flaws are minor however and do not impair the overall impact.

This impact is created by the performances and the plotting. Jean Anderson, Stephanie Beacham and Stephanie Cole in leading roles are legendary. They deliver, as characters in dire circumstances and facing daily hardship and tragedy. The internment camp setting is convincingly carried off and the varied female population amongst the cast depict the class-consciousness of British colonial types at the time of the Second World War, and their conflicting views of justice, responsibility, resistance and morality.

What's interesting with this second series, is the embedding of the characters in the world of the prison camp. We are in 1942, and the women know that the war is now going to drag on. They have to face their situation and survive and choose differing strategies. When they arrive at the new camp, after another long march, they are confronted by a system that is familiar but also contains, for them, real betrayal. They find that a British prisoner, Verna Johnson (Rosemary Martin) and the commandant’s interpreter, Miss Hassan (Josephine Welcome) are effectively collaborating with the regime and profiteering from Red Cross donations and the payments for the prisoners’ work details.

The shades of grey amidst this difficult situation are authentic depictions of real life internment experiences. This is where the drama really affects the viewer.

The grief, loss and personal conflicts gradually reach a crescendo with consequences resulting from one damaged woman, Dorothy Bennett’s (Veronica Roberts) fraternisation with the prison guards. In addition, there's the moving treatment of the relationships between women. Both Joss Holbrook (Jean Anderson) and Dr Bea Mason (Stephanie Cole) project a sense of profound and genuine loss at the absence of dear female friends. For Joss, her long time friend and probably life partner, Monica is a constant concern; and she is eager for any piece of news about her as one would for a beloved spouse. For Bea Mason, the taciturn and self-sacrificing doctor, the removal of her colleague Nelly to another camp is also a source of concern and Cole’s understated performance suggests unrequited love.

The trajectory of the characters’ experiences is moving and powerful and reflects upon the fracturing of established beliefs and social values. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the transfixing performance of Patricia Lawrence as Catholic nun Sister Ulrica. Her journey is portrayed exceptionally well, with self-criticism, doubt and growing awareness of what wartime and imprisonment do to moral absolutes. Throughout the drama her love for her fellow inmates never descends into mawkish, religious sentiment. Everything is called into question at times of crisis; but there's also a sense of the lingering days, the atrophying boredom of mindless work, and the sniping and bitterness of long-term close-quarters incarceration.

The obvious endeavours taken by the actresses to alter and maintain their physical appearances through weight-loss are apparent. But what is perhaps one of the most disturbing elements, contrasting this drama with more contemporary female-centred television series, is that no matter how starved the actresses try to appear, none of them quite manage to match the degree of gauntness that the cast of suburban characters in Desperate Housewives achieved.

8

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image