Boxing Day is a very odd occasion and nobody quite knows what its about as it’s the day after you’ve opened all your presents but you’ve still got half tins of chocolate lying around and uneaten turkey to devour. It’s also an odd day in terms of TV as the big Christmas specials have been on the day before but at the same time it’s still too early to be airing new series so instead films and one-off dramas fill the majority of the airtime. One such drama is Doors Open, based on a novel by Ian Rankin, which is produced by Stephen Fry’s Sprout Pictures and stars the man himself as art historian Professor Robert Gissing.
Robert has been given the job of curating and caring for a group of famous paintings and he later befriends billionaire art fan Mike MacKenzie who uses his money to snap up various works at auction. It helps that Mike is in a relationship with auctioneer Laura and in the first scene he purchases a piece of art that the pair can share when she moves in with him. The action then shifts five years into the future where Mike and Laura have separated and he is in the process of selling his business as he has lost his passion for it. Robert meanwhile is thrown when the bank want to take the paintings away from Scotland and send Laura back to help him make an inventory of the artwork which is being kept in the gallery’s warehouse. When Mike goes to seek an explanation from Laura to why she is helping the bank he discovers that she is in a relationship with and getting engaged to the bank’s representative Bruce Cameron. Robert’s reaction to the paintings leaving Scotland is simple as he plans to steal, or in his words remove, a few paintings that are close to his heart. After initially ridiculing the idea, Mike later agrees to join Robert if only to get one back on the bank that have stolen his true love away and also to get back the painting he bought five years ago. Mike and Robert are joined in their quest by Mike’s friend Allan who has recently been sacked by the same bank who is taking the paintings and wishes to both secure some artwork to get some money for his family and get revenge against his former employees.
The trio’s plan is simple as they plot to swap the original paintings in the gallery for forgeries created by one of Robert’s former students Westie. They agree their best bet is to enter the warehouse on Doors Open Day, an event which sees some of Scotland’s most closed-off venues open for the public, and set off a fire alarm which will send everybody out for twenty minutes. While casing the warehouse they attract the attention of local crime boss and Mike’s old acquaintance Calloway who owes some money to a Geordie gangster who is constantly threatening him. Realising they need each other Mike brings Calloway and his crew in on the mission and with a hardened criminal on board their plans soon become full-proof. Calloway provides them with the disguises, technology and extra manpower they need to carry out the job and in return he asks them to steal another painting that the Geordie has requested as collateral for the money he owes. Though their plan starts well eventually Allan’s sloppiness combined with the fact that Laura turns up at the warehouse means that nothing runs smoothly and after the robbery events start to unravel.
It’s always hard to judge a drama based on a book, especially one I haven’t read, as I’m never sure how many of the plot points are vital to the story’s success. Personally I most enjoyed the scenes with the three men plotting their heist in the pub as some of Allan’s reactions to Mike and Robert’s ideas are truly priceless. The plot on the whole is uncomplicated fare as the motives for all three men committing the robbery are established early on while the later involvement of the criminal element is also well explained. The problem I had was with some of the characters namely Calloway’s mob who come across as stereotypical gangsters that you would find in any British crime film and for me they remained two-dimensional throughout the course of Doors Open. I also found the character of Laura was underdeveloped as she essentially existed as a love interest for Mike and also was there to provide a reason why he would want to rob the warehouse in the first place. For someone who was an assured auctioneer and art fan I didn’t think she came across as a particularly strong presence and instead she was presented as a woman who needed a man to define her. I also found that the story started to sag after the heist itself with the various twists and turns not being particularly believable while the final scene was a little bit of an anticlimax considering what had come before.
I felt the saving grace of Doors Open came from the performances namely that of Stephen Fry who, in play a knowledgeable art fan, was in essence portraying a version of himself. Thankfully that isn’t a problem when Fry is such a warm presence whether he is acting or simply hosting a show he has a commanding aura which lends itself well to the role he plays. Douglas Henshall is also well-cast as the bored billionaire whose sense of calm makes him a natural leader of the group and you can also believe why these two men would agree with what he had to say. For me though the show was stolen by Kenneth Collard who as Allan became the comic foil of the piece and whose scene in the warehouse involving a photocopier was one of the highlights of the entire piece. The only piece of casting I didn’t agree with was Lenora Crichlow who in my eyes was far too young to play this accomplished auctioneer especially considering that we’re meant to buy that she’s been in the job for over five years while I also felt that she and Henshall didn’t particularly share a believable chemistry on screen which is a shame seeing as their romance anchors the final part of the drama.
Despite some problems with the plotting and casting I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Doors Open as it had three likeable performances, an easy-to-follow story and lots of lovely shots of the Scottish coastline. Stephen Fry in particular shines throughout and his company has produced an untaxing drama to watch on Boxing Day as you become increasingly bored with your new presents and are still trying to eat yet another turkey sandwich.
Did you enjoy Doors Open? What did you think to Stephen Fry? Leave Your Comments Below.