ONE SUMMER IS CHILLING AND COMPELLING
Television by Entertainment/Arts Editor Peter Dean
Billy (David Morrissey) hasn't been to school in months, doesn't eat regularly, and roughs up drunks for money.
Icky (Spencer Leigh) is his offsider, dotes on Mastermind despite his appalling ignorance - he thinks Margaret Thatcher is the Queen's sister - and is game for anything as long as Billy's there.
They live in one of Liverpool's less charming suburbs and are products of a materialistic society that is drifting, purposeless, greedy and mindlessly violent. They run with a gang led by a menacing loudmouth (Sean McKee).
The two youths are the principle characters in Channel 2's One Summer, premiering tomorrow at 8.55pm. But this is no detached documentary, it is a five-part story by Willy Russell with all the impact of dramatised observation.
Defeat hangs like a fog in this atmosphere. The high school teachers have long ago abandoned ideas of a calling, and are resigned to presiding over classes that stop just this side of chaos.
Strangely enough, the pupils aren't dressed like Lower East Side blackboard junglers; they are quite public school in their crested jackets and old school ties. Three of them look quite professional, as they lift the cassette radio from a teacher's unattended car.
After school, en route to sort out the Swanjack gang, they take over the top deck of a bus, ride without paying and ignore the bus driver. But the hulking, inarticulate Billy is consumed with repugnance for his environment.
What has he got? An embittered, deserted mother (Sheila Fay) who thinks only of bingo, a sister (Gil Brailey), sluttish and lumbered with a baby, and a watchful policeman who cheerfully tells Billy it is only a matter of time before they meet again.
Still, Billy has a dream. Years before he went on a school camping trip to Wales, an idyllic holiday he has always remembered. If only he could escape from the threats and disillusion of Liverpool, and go back to Wales.
At the end of the first instalment he is on his way. Will the expected peace and serenity restore happiness, and point to a life that has lost meaning before it has even reached 20?
It may sound like a dreary chronicle, so downbeat that it is depressing non-entertainment. Don't believe it.
You may recoil from the thought that two world wars were fought so these people can live in near-suicidal frustration, or that what they are crying out for - a reason for living, a goal worth working towards - is not being given them But Russell's story remains hopeful, even if Billy's dream will never be fulfilled.
The acting is naturalistic, so much so that Australian viewers will have considerable difficulty in understanding what these Scousers are jabbering about. Gordon Flemyng's direction is quick and forceful, and he extracts some chillingly realistic performances from a predominantly young cast.
Brisbane Courier Mail (Australia)
Main One Summer site