Saturday, 9 November 2013


Director: Richard Curson-Smith
Writer: Richard Curson-Smith
Producer: Richard Fell
Cast: Anthony Sher, Matilda Ziegler, Keith Allen
Year of release: 2004
Country: UK
Reviewed from: UK TV screening

This one-hour TV adaptation of JG Ballard's short story 'The Enormous Space' was first broadcast on BBC4 (cable/satellite/freeview) in 2004 and repeated on BBC2 (terrestrial) the following year. It is pretty much a one-man piece, starring Anthony Sher (Genghis Cohn, Erik the Viking) as Gerald Ballantyne who conducts a social and scientific experiment on himself.

Having been off work following a traffic accident, he decides - just as he steps outside to head off to work for his first day back - to stay inside instead. He has a large suburban semi-detached house all to himself, his wife having just moved out, so he will see how long he can survive, alone, at home. The rules are: he won't go past his front door, he won't initiate any outside contact, he will do his best to keep other people out while remaining civil at all times, and he will maintain all the standards of civilisation: clean clothes, trimmed beard etc.

His wife having paid the various utility bills just before she left, he has nearly three months of electricity and water. He itemises all the comestibles in the cupboards and decides that it should last him at least a fortnight. By profession he is a food technologist so he knows the nutritional value of different items and how to combine them, even after that initial couple of weeks when he is reduced to finding leaves and worms in the back garden.

And he records all his experiences on a camcorder, although the video diary is only a small part of the production rather than the whole thing like The Last Horror Movie. A crucial plot point is that the playback on the camcorder doesn't function, so he can tape but not watch what he tapes.

Over the weeks, he has a few visitors. A colleague (Matilda Ziegler, who played Mr Bean's occasional girlfriend) comes by to see what is happening and his estranged wife (Deborah Findlay: The Last Train, Messiah) comes round to let him know that she has initiated divorce proceedings and find out why he hasn't replied to her solicitor's letter. He hasn't replied because he has burned all his post, as well as money, unneeded clothes and in fact a great deal else. Although he continues to find nutrition in unlikely places (local pets start disappearing...) his health deteriorates, his weight drops, his skin becomes patchy and red. Towards the end he takes to wandering around in his unwashed, striped pyjamas and the resemblance to an Auschwitz inmate cannot be accidental.

But this wouldn't be Ballard (or rather, wouldn't be Ballard-ian) if it was just a study in agorophobia or a chronicle of one's man's descent into madness. What Ballantyne finds, as his house becomes his entire world, is that the house itself is changing. He explores the semi, learning all its details as one would never know them merely by living there. He starts to see things that he never saw, find things that he never found, and the house itself actually enlarges.

The attic becomes the 'enormous space' of the original title; a cavernous room stretching further each time that he visits until it goes almost into infinity. There are scientific works on his bookshelf, from where he tears certain pages, arranging them on the living room wall and making connections with string - an attempt to map (and explain) the three-dimensional distortion of his house in two-dimensional terms. In that respect, Home resembles another recent stand-alone TV play that melded mathematics and the fantastic, Solid Geometry, although this new production was significantly superior to that one, mainly because the source material was written by someone who understands the SF genre.

The vast openness spreads to the upper floor and Ballantyne takes to living downstairs, only venturing upstairs - into what has become an overpowering whiteness - with a guide rope attached to his belt like a mountaineer so that he can find his way down again. Gradually he retreats further and further as the house enlarges in multiple dimensions.

It could of course all be in his head. Towards the end a man (Keith Allen: The Yob, Robin Hood) who comes to repossess the TV shows him how to link his camcorder to it and Ballantyne sees that his film of the cavernous attic shows nothing but the room as it always was. But the skill in Ballard's writing - effectively translated to the screen here - is the way he makes us believe that just because something is in somebody's head that doesn't mean that it isn't real. There are degrees of real in Ballard's works and the distinction between reality and fantasy is not just blurred, it vacilates itself between being there and being all in our mind. The physical and mathematical changes to Ballantyne's house are no more or less real than the dinosaurs in The Drowned World (my second favourite novel of all time, incidentally).

In his classic early works such as The Drowned World, The Drought and The Wind from Nowhere, Ballard took a single catastrophic factor - too much water, too little water, gale force winds - and gradually increased it, showing all the time how it affected people socially, physically and (crucially) psychologically. Home does exactly the same thing but on a much smaller scale: Gerald Ballantyne instead of the human race, his suburban semi instead of the planet.

This was a terrific production: tightly written and directed with a stellar central performance from Sher (and, let's give credit, effective make-up by Sarita Allison). Also in the supporting cast is the BBC's original 'Young Sherlock Holmes' Guy Henry. One-off productions of this quality are sadly rare on British TV nowadays so we must cherish - and applaud - each one.

MJS rating: A
review originally posted 19th January 2005

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