Home » What to watch this week: ‘This Town’ hits on BBC Iplayer
Entertainment National News

What to watch this week: ‘This Town’ hits on BBC Iplayer

When faced with tales of bands forming on screen, my expectations tend to plummet faster than a lead balloon. I brace myself for clichéd “Let’s put the show on right here!” vibes, akin to Billy Zane’s infamous line in Titanic – “Something Picasso? He won’t amount to a thing!” 

So it was with a heavy heart that I approached This Town, the latest creation from Steven Knight, renowned for Peaky Blinders. It delves into the birth of an 80s new wave band, stirred by the preceding waves of ska, reggae, two tone, and punk, with musical tracks crafted by record producer and songwriter Dan Carey and poet Kae Tempest. I felt weary before the curtain even rose.

Yet, as is often the case, initial impressions can deceive. This Town emerges as a masterful piece of storytelling, brimming with intelligence, ambition, and heart – tinged with a borderline anarchic spirit – that easily surpasses any preconceptions. Admittedly, it takes some adjusting to, as anything groundbreaking does. There’s an abundance of poetry, particularly in voiceover, especially in the early stages, which occasionally feels overwhelming. However, from the outset, it captivates, and by the third episode, it finds its footing, injecting moments of levity amidst escalating tensions among the characters, as stakes rise and consequences loom.

At its core lies Dante (Levi Brown), a Birmingham college student and budding poet. Initially portrayed as a gentle, somewhat eccentric soul nursing a broken heart, Dante’s journey unfolds alongside his friend Jeannie (Eve Austin), a music composer devoid of lyrical prowess. Instead of diving headfirst into predictable romances, we’re treated to the saga of an intricate family dynamic – one marked by love, haunted by demons, entangled with the IRA, fractured yet resilient – with the band emerging as a byproduct of this intricate web. It’s a meditation on art as an escape, on suffering and despair as the forge in which talent is tempered into genius.

Dante’s cousin Bardon (Ben Rose) resides in Coventry under the thumb of his domineering father, Eamonn, deeply entrenched in the local IRA. Through their family, including Bardon’s mother Estella (Michelle Dockery) and grandmother Marie (Geraldine James), we’re granted a rare glimpse into the toll exacted by living under the shadow of a terrorist organisation – where fear permeates every facet of life, and normalcy is but a distant dream. Meanwhile, Dante’s older brother Gregory (Jordan Bolger), a soldier stationed in Belfast, adds further complexity, navigating a fraught path between duty and family loyalty amidst the turmoil of a funeral under surveillance.

In a narrative twist, gangster Robbie Carmen (portrayed with chilling menace by David Dawson) emerges, setting up a new music venue as a thinly veiled front for drug trafficking. His presence, though brief, casts a long shadow, culminating in a scene of such visceral intensity that it elicits a physical reaction.

While the performances are uniformly superb, Brown’s portrayal of Dante, in his debut lead role, is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s a rare feat to see a character written as genuinely odd, and even rarer to find an actor who can embody that eccentricity with such nuance and humanity. Yet, the entire ensemble dives deep into Knight’s daring narrative, unearthing layers of profound heartache and wisdom.