Monday, 27 January 2014

Gone to Seed

For somebody who despises the media and television so much, you might wonder why I appear so obsessed with it. I've written long polemic reviews of all the various productions I hate, for example see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/on-benefits-and-proud.html and: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/confessions-of-alien-abductee-aftermath.html and: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/bbc-77-conspiracy-road-trip.html. It's true that television is a vile medium whose primary purpose is to confuse, mislead, distort and dumb down. It's one of the most terrible weapons ever unleashed on the human mind. However, as I've said before, the manipulators who use TV do not control everything that appears on our screens; they influence it, but they do not have a clean sweep. The same goes for the rest of the media, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/some-of-them-are-on-our-side.html. And occasionally, an artistic work appears that is unmistakably progressive. And every once in a while you get a real gem, a work of genius. Gone to Seed is an odd title. "To go to seed" is one of the many idioms in English; it means to decline in appearance, status or utility due to lack of care. It's also a term gardeners use for giving a garden a fallow period where no work is done and the growth just rises naturally. The serial itself was first broadcast in 1992 on ITV and was made by Central Films. It was directed by Nick Laughland and Sandy Johnson. The writer was Tony Grounds. Gone to Seed is a comedy drama series broadcast in six fifty-minute episodes. It must have been made with a sizeable budget; the props are well-designed and the cast is very much A-list. It includes the great comedian Peter Cook in his penultimate part before his death in 1995. It also stars veteran screen actress Hilda Fenemore in a wonderful supporting role as Miss Pringle. There's also a bit of movie history made in Gone to Seed because it's the first ever credited role for Fred Wood, who is probably the ultimate unsung hero of cinema and television. He was born in 1922 in east London, where the story is set, and started acting in 1946. His IMDB filmography is huge, see: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0939705/?ref_=tt_cl_t15. It includes roles in Star Wars, the James Bond movies and Superman III, but these are always in uncredited cameo roles; I've also seen him in several TV adverts. Gone to Seed is the last entry on his page and, for the first and only time ever in his fifty-one year acting career, he has his name next to a character's. He plays "Toothy", a supporting character who doesn't influence the plot, but is nevertheless a brilliant piece comic relief. He's a rather dotty old man who is The Nashville Noise's biggest groupie. He watches all their performances, often dancing along, and says at the end: "Bloody good that, bloody good!" I don't know where he is now, or if he's even still alive; he'd be ninety-one if so. Gone to Seed was on so long ago that I can't remember if I managed to watch it all on TV, but I scoured the shelves avidly, waiting for its VHS release. I liked it a lot while watching it on TV, but it was only when I saw the serial in full that I fell in love with it.

At the time of writing, the entire series of Gone to Seed is available as a freebie on YouTube, see:


But I ask HPANWO-readers, if you can afford it, please help out the film-makers because it's now finally available on DVD: http://www.amazon.com/Gone-Seed-Jim-Broadbent/dp/B001D7WFAW.

Gone to Seed is many things in many different ways. It's a comedy-drama that centres around three adult triplets, Montgomery, Winston and Hilda Plant who are the only children of Mag Plant, a woman who runs a garden centre in the East End of London, as well as being a single mother to her children. The serial begins at Mag's sixtieth birthday where the triplets are all singing her a birthday song. The three plant children are all forty-two years old and are very different in appearance and personality. Hilda, played by Alison Steadman, is closest to her mother, a shy and isolated young woman whose life consists almost entirely of helping Mag run the garden centre. She is almost always found working there, pushing a wheelbarrow or digging up a tulip patch; with her stringy hair, large glasses and dungarees she looks completely institutionalized. She has little in terms of a social life and few friends, but is still a devoted fan of Millwall FC and expresses herself vocally in the football stand, "Saturday in Cold Blow Lane's a-calling!" as they say. She is a virgin and appears to have no interest in men; her celibacy is encouraged by her mother who at one point expresses incredulity when Hilda's nieces joke about her lover Billy, "Don't be silly, girls." Mag has always assumed that Hilda would never find a man and always live at home with her. Hilda has to act as nursemaid too when her mother is feeling unwell.
Warren Clarke plays Hilda's brother Winston who is by far the most conventional member of the family. He's married to a woman called Faith and they have twin teenage daughters. He lives in a nearby house and is professionally independent of the garden centre, working as a builder. He is also a semi-professional wrestler and fights in the ring most evenings. Mag loves the sport and always attends her son's matches to passionately cheer him on with her friends at her side. Winston only has one eye and wears a leather eyepatch; he brags that he lost his eye in a vicious brawl when in fact he slipped and fell while illicitly climbing over the fence to watch a Millwall game. He is quite pretentious and has romantic photographs of himself all over his house. His wife Faith is a pessimistic and cynical red haired woman who works at a private cosmetic surgery clinic, a role which becomes an important element of the plot. She dislikes her in-laws intensely, especially Mag and says: "You're all mad, you Plants!". She often berates her husband for any involvement he has with them.
The third triplet is my favourite character, Montgomery, or Monty, Plant, played by Jim Broadbent. He works at the garden centre alongside his sister Hilda, but also sings and plays guitar in a country and western band called The Nashville Noise. He is very close to his two fellow band members "Batman" and Robin (Robin is played by Cliff Parisi who is currently acting as Minty in TavistockEnders, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w09HEMgfmI). Above all, Monty is a visionary and hopeless romantic who talks in proverbs whenever possible. He longs to take over as manager of the garden centre because he has a dream to transform the place into what he calls "The Plantation", which would combine the usual facilities of a garden centre with a his band performing live music on a stage. There would also be a lemonade fountain, a children's playground and much more. Monty is completely consumed by his vision even to the point where he experiences hallucinations. Included in these hallucinatory episodes is an image of his ideal lover, a young and slender woman with long blonde hair wearing a blue cape; but in his dream he can't see her face. Hilda is sympathetic to her brother's ideas, but the other family members laugh at him, "Disney in Millwall! Don't make me laugh!" as Mag says. This doesn't discourage Monty at all because he is a dedicated idealist, in fact when Big Ron, the landlord of The Folly, the local pub where The Nashville Noise play, tells him he's replacing the band with a karaoke machine, Monty replies: "Decisions are being made by people with no vision! When are they going to cotton on that it's not about the fast buck anymore, it's about the quality, the beauty?"
The garden centre itself is a splendid sight, sitting in the yard of a tall ancient house with a rotunda and balcony. It's rather weather-beaten but still very elegant and it sits on the south bank of the Thames with Tower Bridge in the background. I went to London to look for it once, but this was many years after the film had been made and it had gone. The London docklands are constantly changing and new buildings cover old ones almost every month; and this was just a temporary film set anyway. I got chatting to some local people during my visit and they remembered the set; they told me that it had been there for several weeks while the location unit filmed all the outdoor scenes. Many of the other locations where Monty and his band go on tour are around Twickenham and Teddington in west London, as I discovered only a few days ago, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/eel-pie-island.html.
Synopsis (includes spoilers)
The birthday party doesn't go at all well. Monty unveils a giant ornament on which are written the words: Happy Retirement, Mum; and Mag retorts: "I ain't retiring! When I'm dead you can pick through my possessions like a vulture!" The main frustration Monty has with his mother is that she is currently holding the reins of the garden centre and is not willing to hand them over to her children. She loves her business as much as he does, but she doesn't approve of the changes Monty wants to make. Then Monty has an accident that causes a fire which burns down an outdoor office. In the chaos that ensues a letter slips out of a drawer and is furtively picked up by Winston; it's an offer to buy the garden centre for £300,000 from one Wesley Willis, a ruthless international businessman and former boyfriend of Mag who lives in a penthouse apartment overlooking the garden centre. Willis only wants the garden centre so that he can knock it down and build a helicopter port for an American consortium. He is accompanied everywhere by his sidekick and stepson Billy, a handsome and sophisticated young man. Later on in the series Willis announces to the triplets that he is in fact their father, although this fact is revealed to the viewer in the opening scene. Winston secretly approaches Willis and offers to assist him in his pursuit of the garden centre in the hope that his mother will then give him a share of the money. Willis agrees and offers to pay him £5000 as a finders fee. At the same time he sends Billy to visit the garden centre incognito. At fist Billy is dubious: "They won't sell to you, Dad!" Willis replies: "Don't mention my name. Smile... they'd sell to you." Once there Billy is served by Hilda who is enchanted by him; he easily manages to feign friendship with her and wins her trust. Simultaneously Winston hatches a plan to drive an even bigger wedge between Monty and Mag by encouraging Monty to go on strike until he is allowed to take over management. Monty agrees, knowing that Mag and Hilda cannot keep the place going by themselves; however this is simply a ruse. Winston immediately offers to replace Monty in the hope that Mag will warm to him. He also attempts to sabotage the business by putting poison in the water tank used to irrigate the stock. In the meantime Billy is sneakily setting up a honey trap for Hilda; he pretends to be attracted to her and slowly she becomes besotted with him. In one scene Billy and Willis are gloating about their cruelty. Willis says: "Now that the Rotherhithe Cowboy is off his horse, all that remains is old Green-Fingered Flo, or whatever her name is. Now work your way into her soul!" They then make a bet over who lands them the garden centre first, Winston or Hilda. Due to her relationship with Billy, Hilda has become a changed woman, buying new clothes and having her hair done, and the hairdresser is none other than Sandy Johnson, one of Gone to Seed's directors. Hilda is not too loved-up to become suspicious of Winston and find out what he did to the water tank. He reveals this to Monty who then goes home to talk to his mother. He walks in and finds her lying there dead.
At Mag's funeral Billy impresses Willis by kissing Hilda in front of him, but Willis is distracted by a strange voice calling his name from the river. Winston is convinced he is on the verge of victory, but then when Mag's will is read they find out that she has left her entire estate to Hilda. Hilda angrily ejects Winston from the house, Winston feels very guilty and is later forgiven. Then she delights Monty by telling him she's going to allow him to build The Plantation. However Billy has other ideas. He spins her a yarn about how he is facing debts of £80,000 and that he must leave her to go on the run. Hilda asks how she can help and Billy manipulates her into borrowing money from a "friend of his" who is actually Wesley Willis, whom Hilda has never met and therefore does not recognize. The "friend" asks only for the deeds to the garden centre as a token security. When Winston and Monty find out they are incensed with Hilda, and she is heartbroken.
The triplets decide on several schemes to try to raise the £80,000 they owe Willis and so save the garden centre, like a clearance sale of the stock at knock-down prices, a marathon concert with Monty's band and a charity wrestling gala organized by Winston. They also sell as much of the contents of their home as they can. Hilda unites with her brothers in their campaign, but is haunted over her affair with Billy. Winston even agrees to mortgage his house, and he doesn't tell Faith; but she finds out and during the wrestling gala she invades the ring during his bout and attacks him, much to the amusement of the crowd. In the meantime Wesley Willis is not enjoying his victory; in fact he believes he's having a breakdown; he is hearing more voices and experiencing bad dreams. At the same time Billy is suffering from a guilty conscience over what he's done, something he's obviously never experienced before in his life. He even approaches Hilda and offers her the original market price for the garden centre, £300,000. She refuses angrily by telling him simply: "It's not for sale!" The wrestling spectacular begins and the master of ceremonies is played by Tony Grounds, not the only time that the writer has appeared in a minor role in his own productions. After Winston is defeated by his wife and also the real wrestler Giant Haystacks, playing himself in a guest star appearance, there is a women wrestlers' tournament and one of the fighters is called Lucy Lastic. She's a young blonde woman wearing a blue cape... yes, it is indeed Monty's dream girl. The next step in their plans is to hold a charity twenty-four hour marathon concert by The Nashville Noise in The Folly. However this is the day before the time limit on the loan is up, as Winston says: "The nest twenty-fours will make or break us!" Winston has one last desperate plan, to steal the money from Miss Pringle, an old friend of Mag's who told him she keeps her savings in a bag of cash behind her settee. He tries to get Monty on board; Monty refuses at first, but later on, as it becomes clearer they're not going to reach their target, he agrees to help. At the same time Billy pays a visit to the pub to see Hilda and it becomes clear that along with his sense of shame he has genuine feeling for her too. When Winston and Monty reach Miss Pringle's house and take the bag from the settee they find nothing inside but a worthless, moth-eaten old fur coat. Willis however is having the worst night of anybody; his nightmares and visions reach a terrifying climax and at one point he even sees a potted cactus shedding blood. In the morning it becomes clear that the Plants have lost. They leave the pub dejected. Wesley Willis heads down to the garden centre grinning with glee and hammers in a SOLD sign. But then he hears that voice from the river again and the water starts boiling; from the maelstrom emerges a horrific phantom, and the source of Willis' nightmares is finally revealed. It is the ghost of Mag Plant, come back to haunt him because of what he has done to her children... their children.
The spectre of Mag then takes him on an astral journey to see the outcome of his crimes on the triplets. The garden centre is derelict, waiting for the bulldozers to come and raise it to the ground, but Monty is staging a sit-in protest there despite harassment by thuggish bailiffs. Faith has kicked Winston out of her home and Hilda is working in a book warehouse. At the end of this the ghost drops him from a great height with the ghastly warning: "Unless you save my family, I will destroy you!" He sustains a broken back from the fall and ends up in hospital. In an attempt to redeem himself he gives the triplets back the £80,000 loan. Along with defending his home, Monty begins searching for Lucy Lastic; luckily he doesn't need to look far because she is Miss Pringle's Goddaughter. The two immediately warm to each other and Monty hopes he can woo her. Willis then summons the three to a meeting and reveals to them that he is their father; this is a total shock to them all because Mag always told her children that their father was dead. Nevertheless he still refuses to return the garden centre to them. Monty and Hilda are in shock at this news whereas the more materialistic Winston is delighted and tries to claim his "seat on the board". After a while though, Monty and Hilda think of a way to take advantage of the situation. Willis is recovering from his injury and is booked in for a fake consultation at the clinic where Faith works. While Willis is being detained at the clinic by Batman, Robin and Lucy disguised as doctors, Hilda and Monty arrange a meeting with the American businessman who wants to buy the garden centre site off Willis and pose as a member of Willis' company. They tell him that the deal is off and he walks out angrily. At the same time Willis has become suspicious of his "doctors" and hobbles out on his crutches. However he is embraced by a drunken Winston who wants his fatherly love and suffers further injury to his spine. When the triplets visit Willis in hospital they find out that in ruining his deal with the Americans they have bankrupted him, and the garden centre is now just an abandoned brownfield site. Willis, still terrified of further visitations from the ghost of Mag, allows them to use it and Monty and Hilda finally get to build The Plantation. Monty is so overjoyed that he asks Lucy for her hand in marriage, only to find out to his dismay that she has started dating Winston.
Wesley Willis is released from hospital in time for the grand opening of The Plantation and the triplets take pity on him, and find themselves bonding with their long lost father. They allow him to come and live with them at the house; he's confined to a wheelchair after his two accidents. The time that follows is a golden age for Monty and the others. The Plantation is finally a reality, people come from miles around just for the experience, the tills are ringing and it looks as though they will live happily ever after. However Monty's dream is dampened by his unrequited love for Lucy and Hilda's is also in the same way for Billy, who has disappeared from all their lives. Willis is also deeply depressed by his disability and he fears the return of the horrifying ghost of the triplets' mother. During this segment he speaks mostly in poetic lines voicing his own thoughts like: "What merciful God would incarcerate me with this Hogarth collection of lowlifes!?" However as time goes on and Mag doesn't put in any further apparitions he begins to hope that her soul is now at rest. He also regains the ability to walk again. Inspired by this new lease of life he begins to hatch further plans. As the doctor finally removes his neck brace for the last time he is telling Willis about much he admires The Plantation and Willis casually quips: "Is there a market price for happiness? Because you're right, Doc; all these people should be made to pay for such joy!" He then starts getting involved with the business more and persuades the triplets to form a board rather than it being under the sole directorship of Monty. One of the members is Winston, whom Willis is recruiting to his scheme of taking over control of The Plantation. Monty's dream of The Plantation has always been very idealistic with the objective being one of quality and beauty, often at the expense of profit; even though this has not stopped him making a healthy one. "This place is the jewel in the bobble hat of east London!" he says. Willis wants to run it as more like a conventional corporation with maximization of profit being the last word and therefore sacrificing a lot of the ethical principles that Monty believes in, like the free lemonade fountain and of having a live band instead of just playing recorded music. This seems impossible at first, because on the board Willis is non-voting chairman and Hilda and Monty always agree and so outvote Winston. However when Winston and Lucy split up Monty is overjoyed and invites her for a week's holiday in Paris leaving Hilda alone. At the same time Billy returns and announces that he and Lucy are now a couple and they're off to Hong Kong; this leaves both Monty and Hilda distraught. Monty goes off to Paris by himself. Hilda is so crushed by her situation that she allows Willis and Winston to manipulate her into making some of the changes to The Plantation that Willis wanted, like sacking the band and charging customers an entrance fee.
Monty comes home from Paris in dejection to another nightmare. At the gates of the plantation he has to pay an entrance fee to get in and then follows the sound of recorded country and western music over to the stage where he sees that ridiculous automatons of the band members have been placed there. He is so upset that he leaves again and joins the other members of the band going on tour up the River Thames in Batman's boat. "The Nashville Noise on tour! Let's leave the troubles of the world in our wake! We are the Bermondsey nomads!" At one point they're playing in a pub when a farmer walks in with a sheep on a lead; is this how Londoners see the rest of us? Winston and Willis bully poor, broken Hilda into making even more changes that "plastickify" The Plantation. However Hilda digs her heels in when they try to get her to agree to two further outlets of The Plantation, this includes one that will be run by Winston and Faith, who have made up and are back together; Winston is desperate to get Hilda to agree, thinking it is essential for saving his marriage. Then Billy returns from Hong Kong without Lucy who had split up with him and got herself signed up as the white heroine in a Chinese kick-boxing movie. Willis is overjoyed because he thinks he can use Billy again to drag Hilda back under his thumb. However Billy has changed; he is now in no doubt that he loves Hilda and wants to be with her. This turn of events is so ecstatic for Hilda that she develops a new found strength, opposing Winston and Willis on everything they do. In the meantime things have not gone well for Monty. The band's tour falls apart and the boat breaks down. Batman and Robin go home to London while Monty continues on by himself, unable to face going back. He busks on streets for a few pence, but the pain of his past hangs over him. In the end he tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge into the river, but he is rescued by a strange old woman who looks exactly like his mother. This is a lady who is on an archaeological quest to find a lost play by William Shakespeare; Monty decides to help her because she is a visionary like him. He feels their destinies are joined. However he soon discovers that the lady is a deluded fantasist and something in him breaks. He decides to give up on dreams altogether and "face reality!". He sets off for home. Winston and Willis' plot hangs in the balance; Billy is not playing ball and when Hilda decides she wants to look at the accounts they know their chicanery will soon be exposed; so they decide to gaslight her. They lead her to believe that Billy is cheating on her and is still being used by Willis to control her. This fails to begin with, but then they succeed in making her believe he is having a secret affair with Lucy. On the day when Winston and Faith are renewing their wedding vows in a ceremony at the garden centre Monty arrives home and, at that very moment, Hilda takes a gun and shoots Billy.
In the aftermath of the shooting, as Billy is rushed to hospital by ambulance, Willis tries to cover up the fact that Hilda shot Billy and makes out that it was an accident. Hilda by now knows that the stories about Billy were lies and is overcome with remorse; she agrees to help Willis cover up. Billy has an operation to remove the bullet and then recovers. Hilda tells Monty everything that had been happening while he was away, including Winston and Willis' deception, and Monty goes home and confronts Winston who is sick with shame. Willis then blackmails the triplets into agreeing to his plans for The Plantation by threatening to reveal the truth about Hilda's guilt. They reluctantly agree until Monty sees a way out; he confesses to the crime himself and is arrested. Lucy in the meantime decides she loves Monty because she thinks he shot somebody for her in a crime passionnel. Willis is furious about Monty's bluff, but knows he can do nothing about it. But then he's watching one of the wedding videos made before the shooting and in the background you can see into one of the house's windows; Hilda is clearly visible brandishing the gun. He has proof that Hilda did it! He snatches the video tape, puts it in a bag and jumps on his motorbike to take it to the police station, pursued by Winston in his builders' van. Willis evades Winston and arrives at the police station, but as he opens the bag he sees the face on Mag's ghost staring up at him. He screams with terror and runs back out into the street. Mag takes him on a second astral journey, this time to the future; what life would be like for him in three years time if he hands the video over to the police. Hilda is in jail and on the verge of a breakdown, Winston and Faith are plotting his murder and Monty jumps off a bridge into the river again, and this time he succeeds. Wesley is shocked by what he has been shown and, like Scrooge, on which the scene is based, changes his ways instantly. He tries to make amends by destroying the tape in front of Winston but the latter doesn't believe him, nor do Hilda and Monty. It is only when he holds Hilda hostage and in doing so makes an irrefutable fake confession to the shooting of Billy, only then does Hilda know the truth. The police surround them and order Wesley to come out and put down the gun. Wesley is about to obey when one of the police marksmen misjudges his action and shoots him. He dies and as his body lies on the ground his spirit rises out of him and Mag's ghost comes and takes him away. At the end of the story Winston and his family go off to America to become a famous family of wrestlers. Monty and Lucy have triplets and paint pictures of London's famous sites while Hilda and Billy also have triplets... fancy that! And they run the garden centre together with Miss Pringle. And watching over them all is the ghost of their mother, with Wesley Willis' ghost stranding beside her.
End of synposis
When Gone to Seed was first broadcast I was a very different person to whom I am today. I was far less confident and feared almost everything and everyone around me. My personal life was farcically complicated and unsuccessful and I had few friends. There were many people in my life who described themselves to me as "your friend, Ben", but their behaviour was nothing of the sort; on the contrary they exploited and abused me for profit, self-glorification and entertainment. I felt lonely and ostracized. I was as much an oddball back then as I am now, but my perception of myself was crucially different because I regarded my eccentricity in a negative light rather than a positive one. Back then I felt I was a crank, today I am a maverick. My heath was suffering too; I was seriously underweight because I was hardly eating. I also had allergic eczema and hayfever. I powerfully identified with the plight of the characters, particularly Monty and Hilda. I also understood that Gone to Seed was a tribute to nonconformism, although at the time I didn't have the vocabulary to put it into those words. In the mainstream media this is extremely rare indeed. I took great hope and comfort from that; it's no exaggeration to say that Gone to Seed helped get me through some of the toughest days of my life. Since that time I have studied the media and the way it is used to mould the human mind and culture to the will of our rulers, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/grimlys.html. Now I identify less with the characters' situation, but in a strange way the series is more precious to me than ever. After watching it over a hundred times for twenty-two years, I find Gone to Seed all the more poignant, as we see the long term effects of that psychological warfare agenda on our lives. It's interesting to compare Gone to Seed with TavistockEnders; see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/tavistockenders-scoops-soap-awards.html. They are so different they are virtually antitheses; in fact I'd call Gone to Seed the perfect antidote to the venom of TavistockEnders. Everything between the two is inverted. There's a welcome opposition to social Darwinism in Gone to Seed; the viewer is left in no doubt that what Willis and Billy do to Hilda is immoral even though Hilda is so easily maltreated by them; Hilda's sweetness and amiability are celebrated, not scorned. Monty's is also held in deep veneration for his romantic and idealistic nature when in almost all other TV shows he would be ridiculed and portrayed as a cipher of contempt. In Gone to Seed he is a heroic figure for his seeing of visions and his pursuit of dreams, his creative passion. Monty's dream sequences are my favourite scenes; it takes a great spirit to imagine "an island of beauty amidst a sea of grey"; I find myself sharing Monty's hope for a world of sunflowers, butterflies and ivy-clad gazeboes. There's an almost Teletubbies-like feelgood factor to Monty's dream (See: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/i-like-watching-teletubbies.html). These sequences are always accompanied by the programme's beautiful score. The antagonists are portrayed as spoilsports of all that, to "plastickify" all that is noble and profound in the world; what a fantastic word that is! In the end Monty finally caves in under the pressure of life and abandons his dreams; in a conventional piece of drama this would be seen as an admirable development and there would be a golf clap all round for him. However when he returns home a changed man, ready to embrace the so-called "real world" it is just before the disastrous show-down of Billy's shooting. He speaks the line: "You all live in the real world, I've come to join you." the moment before we hear the gunshot. To me this signifies that Monty has made a terrible mistake.

The score of Gone to Seed is composed and performed by The Gutter Brothers, see: http://www.gutterbrothers.co.uk/. It is best described as a kind of psychedelic country and western, especially what I call "The Plantation theme", which repeats throughout the serial, most often during Monty's visions, and doubles up for the closing credits song, which uses the metaphor of seeds growing into flowers. There are many different styles of music used though, for example "Wesley Willis' theme" which is very jazzy; and "Winston's march", which is just a few bars long, takes the form of a slow and dour brass solo. At the end of the last episode The Plantation theme is reworked into a ballad with a slower tempo and single Hammond organ melody. If you ever hear me humming to myself, it will probably be one of these tunes you're hearing! The camerawork is very groundbreaking and creative too as if the director thought he was in competition with Monty. There are some split-screen scenes and well-thought out visual devices. For example, during the band marathon, the passing of time is gauged by a shrinking pile of sausage rolls. There's another shot in which images in a scene are reflected off Hilda's spectacles. In fact almost every shot is well-executed and fascinating to behold. The colours are rich pastels and the costumes eye-catching, especially Monty's band jacket, Winston's wrestling leotards and Lucy Lastic's dresses. There are a few flashback scenes to the characters' childhoods in which the same actors play their younger selves. This method can sometimes be very lame and obtrusive, like in the film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's Equus, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsx5wNyzmRo, however in Gone to Seed the result is hilarious. Although this series has affected me so deeply and has such a powerful message, it is essentially a very light-hearted production, with no graphic sex or violence; it is perfectly suitable for all the family. The serious and blithe elements of the style are skilfully balanced. In the climactic scene where Wesley Willis dies the film-makers work hard to prevent the atmosphere from becoming too sombre, inserting comic touches. This is helped by their employment of another well-known actor who stars in the last episode only, Anthony Newly. He plays Chief Inspector Keet, the policeman who investigates the shooting of Billy. I'm not claiming that Gone to Seed is technically perfect; in fact it sports some major gaffs. In episode 3 we see Faith kicking Winston out of their house, yet later in the series they both behave as if it was Winston who initiated their separation. Also the development of Billy's character from nasty to nice is rather clumsy; coming in fits and starts and even total regression. There's an element of this contradiction when it comes to Wesley Willis' personality too. There are also a few cliches and habit words in it like "tip up" instead of "turn up", the constant repetition of "dupe" and colloquialisms like "fluffy", meaning "girlfriend"; maybe this is just how Londoners talk. But an artistic masterpiece has never been dependent on technical perfection; if Grounds had ironed out these little wrinkles I would not have loved his series one bit more. There are also some wonderfully quotable phrases and I used to drive my friends and family mad by always saying: "I'll leave it all in your capable hands... Australian". Interestingly Jed Mercurio, the writer of The Grimleys, see above link, mentions Tony Grounds in this article; I knew those two would be kindred spirits, see: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/mar/17/janeausten.fiction.

A recurring theme in several of Grounds' works are the dead returning as ghosts to influence the living; this also took place in his movie Last Christmas, in which a young boy is grieving over the death of his father, and he has encounters with his father's ghost; see: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0223623/combined. The influence of Charles Dickens is very apparent in these storylines and, as a Londoner, Grounds is manifestly fond of his city's illustrious literary forebear. The ghostly goings on in Gone to Seed are straight out of A Christmas Carol with Mag Plant taking on the role of both Jacob Marley and all Scrooge's visitations. All in all, the entire overall setting of Gone to Seed is rather surreal, even leaving aside the supernatural element. I can easily imagine it being set in some closely-related but still distinct parallel universe. Blended with this is an almost hyperrealism of the everyday, references to pop culture and household celebrities like Esther Rantzen etc. I found it immensely absorbing, as if I were a part of the story. There is a slight pantomime element present too; or maybe music hall, another style pioneered in London. At the start of all the episodes after the opening one, a character addresses the viewer and gives a recap of the story so far; and at the end Mag's ghost does as well, smiling slyly and saying: "Well what did you want, a miserable ending?" Am I just imagining the spiritual journey Gone to Seed is? Did Grounds intend his serial to be so? As I said, it's a gentle family comedy-drama, but within its softy-spoken words can be heard a rebel yell. There are many films and TV programmes that are very prudential and perceptive satires. As I've said, the manipulators don't control everything, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/some-of-them-are-on-our-side.html, but the themes I've found in Gone to Seed are the most subversive of any. A truly free and happy world will never be achieved by merely voting for somebody different, or even demanding the head of George Soros on a plate, it's dependent on an internal transformation. We cannot create a better world with physical action and activism unless this is accompanied by a quest for inner peace and enlightenment. It means wanting to build The Plantation. Gone to Seed has inspired and strengthened me like no other film I've ever seen. I urge all HPANWO-readers to watch it too; I hope you gain as much joy and hope out of it as I have. I'll end this review with the words of Miss Pringle, the only person who truly loved Wesley Willis for who he was: "...and we shall be happy again."



23 comments:

Tony said...

This looks like it has the spirit of Mike Leigh about it (at his most optimistic, like 'Life is Sweet') and features several of Leigh's go-to actors.

I resisted reading the synopsis because I reckon I'll give it a go. Thanks for the heads up.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Tony. Hope you enjoy it :-)

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Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Winston's actor Warren Clarke has died. RIP

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