Written And Directed by John McKay
Jean: “You don’t know anything about me.”
David: “I know you’re posh.”
Jean: “I’m not posh. I feed the pigs.”
Okay, confession time – if Karen Gillan hadn’t been cast in this one-off drama for BBC4, then chances are I probably wouldn’t have watched this, let alone actually review it. Fashion is not my thing in the slightest and a lot of what happens in this 90 minute drama cements my reason why it’s an aspect of journalism/media I wouldn’t want to have that much involvement in.
Also, I’ve never heard of either model/muse Jean Shrimpton and her photographer lover, David Bailey at all but after watching this, I was a little more interesting in learning a bit more about both of them, which BBC4 partially helped with airing a documentary on the latter after this aired.
The strand of this story mostly covers an infamous shoot between Shrimpton and Bailey for Vogue Magazine in 1962 New York and its one where we have iron lady like Claire Rendlesham telling us to the point of nausea that that Bailey’s an arrogant so and so and that Jean is too plain looking to really stand out as a model.
It probably comes as no surprised that we’re supposed to side more with Shrimpton and Bailey as they love and argue their way through the story while eventually proving to Claire that their way for the photo shoot is the best way after all. It’s amazing how charismatic and frustrating Bailey is in equal measure but it’s hard not to see where he’s coming from, even during his less likeable moments in the story.
This production won’t win points for it’s classism commentary but it is rather gratifying to see the likes of Claire taken down a peg or two as well, more so for relentless haranguing of beleaguered yes man Larry rather than anything she says to Jean or David. Larry’s probably the most likeable of the four leading characters here, even if we know next to nothing about the fella.
In terms of performances, Karen Gillan is excellent as Shrimpton but this piece really more for Aneurin Barnard, who bloody well commands your attention throughout the entire production as David Bailey, whose unshakeable belief in both his muse and his abilities as a photographer really are captivating to watch.
Helen McCrory has some good moments as Claire but often she does feel a little too one-note as a character, even if the piece does make a decent attempt to justify her behaviour and even try to play nice to the very people she kept fighting with for the most of the 90 minutes here. At one point, I could even empathise with her a little but her elitist behaviour whilst realistic more or less justifies my own misgivings about the fashion, considering that it’s an attitude than hasn’t changed in five decades.
Apart from the photo shoot elements itself, there’s not much to explore with Jean and David as lovers. They have a certain passion and belief in each other but theirs wasn’t always a harmonious of unions. It probably also didn’t help that Jean’s involvement with a well known married man also cost her having a relationship with her family but that’s something that’s glossed over a bit though. I think I would’ve liked to have seen a tiny bit more of Jean’s family life in this story.
- Along with Helen McCrory, another famous face was Vogue woman Diane, played by Frances Barber. I missed not seeing an eye patch on her this time.
- Points to the cinematography for this story. Some of the scenes in New York just looked beautifully shot.
- Karen Gillan has recently done a photo shoot with the real David Bailey, according to her interview with Radio Times.
- Unlike Matt Smith last year with Christopher And His Kind, there wasn’t that much sauciness in this story.
While a part of me would’ve liked if this hasn’t been relegated to BBC4 only, I have to admit that We’ll Take Manhattan was a pretty good move for Gillan, who as a former model herself was a good choice for the role of Jean Shrimpton and after this, I bet there’s going to be a lot more people who will want to see more of Aneurin Barnard on their screens.
Rating: 8 out of 10