Takin' Over the Asylum 2-DVD Set
United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2.4 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital Stereo ), SPECIAL FEATURES: 2-DVD Set, Alternative Footage, Commentary, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: First screened in 1994, this engrossing six part drama took on the issues surrounding mental health with sensitivity and black humour. The series helped launch the careers of Ken Stott (Messiah and Rebus) and David Tennant (Doctor Who), and went on to win a BAFTA for Best Serial and an RTS Award for Best Writer.
Eddie McKenna is a double-glazing salesman who moonlights as a DJ for hospital radio in a Scottish mental asylum - St Judes. He nurtures close friendships with the patients there including Francine, a self-harmer, schizophrenic Fergus, OCD sufferer Rosaline and Campbell, a manic depressive, with whom he shares a dream to make it onto the commercial radio scene.
As Campbell's inspired antics seem to bring the pair closer to their goal, the pressures of work, relationships and family begin to get to Eddie. With his life threatening to spin out of control, it is Eddie's turn to look for help... SCREENED/AWARDED AT: BAFTA Awards, ...Takin' Over the Asylum 2-DVD Set
- Language : English
- Director : David Blair
- Media Format : Import, PAL
- Run time : 296 minutes
- Actors : David Tennant, Elizabeth Spriggs, Gavin Mitchell, Ken Stott, Katy Murphy
- Language : English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
- Studio : BBC
- ASIN : B0098TQWBU
- Number of discs : 2
- Customer Reviews:
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Ken Stott is heartbreakingly good as Eddie and Katy Murphy isn't far behind as the traumatised patient he falls in love with. It also features David Tennant in his first big role (playing a manic depressive) and even has Liz Smith pop up in episode 2. It's very sad at times but also very funny, excellently written, and there isn't a bad performance from anyone.
The series has aged remarkably well. Part of the credit must lie in David Blair’s sensitive direction. He gives the actors time and space to convey their characters in depth yet the story never feels slow.
There are commentary tracks for episodes 2 and 5. These feature David Tennant, Katy Murphy and the writer Donna Franceschild. The three have a great rapport and it was interesting to hear them reflect on work they'd done 15 years previously (I think the DVD came out in 2008 or 2009) and the other actors/crew involved. Donna Franceschild's commentary was particularly acute and drew attention to how this kind of gritty, politically engaged drama has pretty well disappeared. You can also watch David Tennant's audition tape.
Loads of stereotypes within, acted fantastically.
None of this woke rubbish. Life as it is.
It also reinforces how easy it is to get locked away because you don't conform to whatever convention the majority dictates.
A rollercoaster of emotions. Get your hankies out, shout at the telly and watch it.
The young David Tennant is brilliant in a large, on the edge of going over the top but never doing so, performance of a young man with Bipolar disorder. The performances which really hung in my memory over the years though were Ken Stott's bruised, messy, alcoholic - in many ways less sane, outside the asylum, than some of the inside the asylum characters, particularly the wonderful Angus McFaddyen's schizophrenic Fergus (this is the second performance which stayed with me) - beautifully restrained, full of depth, breaks your heart - and then there is the wonderful Katy Murphy as lacerated, self-harming Francine. Ruth McCabe is beautifully low key as a woman with OCD and there's even a delicious performance by Elisabeth Spriggs, looking eerily like a fatter, older Meryl Streep as Stott's Lithuanian grandmother.
At the time, the series won a BAFTA for best series, and Franceschild an award for her wonderful script, so the release to DVD was well overdue!
Cracking drama, inventive, great soundtrack - it's set in a hospital radio studio, after all, sparkling humour, and break your heart painful emotions. Like life, there are winners and losers in the story lines, and there's little which would satisfy Hollywood in their endings, but they are RIGHT.
I'll try to avoid spoilers, but any decent review of this will let a few things slip - you have been warned.
Many will come to this via the popularity of David Tennant, and indeed, to watch this is to wonder how it took so long for him to become a household name; but even then, his performance is simply one great performance among many. As ensemble casts go, this is one of the best, and I cannot pick out a weak link, even amongst those cast members who have no lines at all or who appear only in one episode.
Ken Stott in particular deserves a special mention for his portrayal of double glazing salesman and would-be pro dejay Eddie. His relationship with his dappy grandma (played with superb comic nous combined with believable characterisation by Elizabeth Spriggs) is very funny and very touching, affection and exasperation going hand in hand. His onscreen chemistry with both Murphy and, in a different way, Tennant, make those central relationships absolutely believable and touching. His portrayal of a man gradually falling to pieces is painfully real.
Katy Murphy - what can I say. Moments of extreme tenderness and vulnerability, punctured by her character's reluctance to own that vulnerability. There are moments where the expression in her eyes is enough to bring tears to mine. Tennant mentions in the commentary that she makes him cry: it's not hard to see why.
Tennant himself shows that even in his relatively tender early twenties he was already a force to be reckoned with. His audition footage is a nice bonus, and it is not hard to see why the director took a chance on a raw young talent to carry a good part of the story - he is absolutely fearless, and it shows. As Campbell Bain he has so much energy and so much at times unexpected pathos to make compelling viewing. Absolutely natural in the role of the young, talented manic-depressive, he pins all the stories together, and his ability to change mood or turn the feeling of a scene on a sixpence is already much in evidence.
I could go on, but will just briefly mention two other stand out performances before this review gets insanely long:
Softly spoken Angus MacFayden as Fergus will steal your heart and then promptly break it... If anyone can sit through his story without being touched, I have to doubt they have a feeling bone in their body. Excellent in big and small scenes, often portraying much with a simple, expressive look; an impressive comedy turn in places, too, with a very brief Jack Nicholson impression that is uncanny.
Ruth McCabe is similarly touching and funny in her portrayal of Rosalie, an ordinary housewife bar her OCD, an engaging and moving performance; the scene where she innocently reveals the cause of her problems to Campbell is one that will stay with me for a long time. She manages to make Rosalie funny, sad and sympathetic, without ever making her weak or an object of pity or derision.
I could go on; this is truly a fine cast, a fine script, and an altogether unmissable series. The extras are relatively scanty, as is often the case with pre-DVD productions, but the two episodes-worth of commentary and the Tennant audition tape are well worth their inclusion. One can only long for more, but there is more to enjoy and to appreciate here than in many more comprehensive discs. The DVD transfer doesn't have the clarity we expect these days, again unsurprising given its age, and the music tracks are mostly or all very fine cover versions, but only a grouch could complain when the emotion and raw story on screen are so thoroughly absorbing.
There are a few terribly eighties moments, but anything mawkish or sappy is contrasted immediately by tragedy and comedy, and the hair and clothes are more amusing than horrific. Any datedness is only in things that will prompt a wry smile, not a wince.
One to watch and watch again, and one to make you think: TV at its best.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 April 2022