The Line Of …

by Stephen Tall on May 17, 2006

Tonight’s first episode of BBC2’s The Line Of Beauty was as good as the previews had promised, even if it did take me a few moments to re-adjust to Blackadder alumnus Tim McInnerny playing Tory MP Gerald Fedden.

(At any moment I expected him to look amazed, turn to Lord Kessler, and exclaim “can it be true, my lord, that I hold in my mortal hands a nugget of purest GREEN?” I can’t imagine why actors worry about becoming typecast…)

I shall especially look forward to the scene in which the book’s young gay hero, Nick Guest, a doctoral student who establishes himself as a permanent tenant at the Feddens’, asks Margaret Thatcher to dance while coked up to the eyeballs. The novel’s author, Alan Hollinghurst, deserved his Booker Prize for this brilliantly constructed and electrically insightful passage alone:

It was the simplest thing to do – Nick came forward and sat, half-kneeling, on the sofa’s edge, like someone proposing in a play. He gazed delightedly at the Prime Minister’s face, at her whole head, beaked and crowned, which he saw was a fine if improbable fusion of the Vorticist and the Baroque. She smiled back with a certain animal quickness, a bright blue challenge. There was the soft glare of the flash – twice – three times – a gleaming sense of occasion, the gleam floating in the eye as a blot of shadow, his heart running fast with no particular need of courage as he grinned and said, ‘Prime Minister, would you like to dance?’

‘You know, I’d like that very much,’ said the PM, in her chest tones, the contralto of conviction. Around her the men sniggered and recoiled at an audacity that had been beyond them. Nick heard the episode already accruing its commentary, its history, as he went out with her among twitches of surprise, the sudden shifting of the centre of gravity, an effect that none of them could have caused and none could resist. He himself smiled down at an angle, ignoring them all, intimately held in what the PM was saying and the brilliant boldness of his replies. Others followed them down the stone stairs and through the lantern-lit passage, to watch, and to play their subsidiary parts. ‘One’s not often asked to dance,’ said the PM, ‘by a don.’ And Nick saw that Gerald hadn’t got it quite right: she moved in her own accelerated element, her own garlanded perspective, she didn’t give a damn about squares on the wallpaper or blue front doors – she noticed nothing, and yet she remembered everything.

If they capture even half of that on the small screen I’ll be mighty impressed.