Ordinarily, if I heard that a writer wanted to cast his own wife in the leading role of one of his works, I’d assume nepotism, but for this role, Nick Vivian couldn’t have chosen a better actress and songstress. It’s just a happy coincidence that he and Horrocks are married.
And what a pairing they are; one with superb penmanship and an eye for intricate detail that a lesser writer may have missed, and the other with not only the voice of an angel but the humour, wit and all round acting ability to carry off superbly just about any role.
As Gracie Fields, Horrocks exuded northern charm, and Vivian imbued her character with nuances so subtly effective, I felt like I’d known Gracie all my life by the end of this drama. And I rather wish I had on the basis of this sympathetic – but non-syrupy – portrait of a woman who went from being everyone’s darling to an outcast.
The scenes in which Gracie sang in a Canadian music hall to ever increasing booing were traumatic to watch, but Horrocks managed to portray Fields’ backbone without relinquishing her humanity. It hurt her that her own countrymen had effectively asked her to choose between her Italian husband and them, but in wartime, patriotism was as essential as parachute silk, and Gracie wasn’t to be forgiven easily for her marriage and her loyalty to it. Which was desperately sad and very unfair.
Tom Hollander as Monty Banks, Gracie’s husband, also excelled on-screen as the taciturn, witty and self-deprecating man who, when he finally got his wife all to himself in Capri, was to have only two years left to enjoy her.
In a touching scene, we saw Gracie had written a poem to Monty on the back of one of the postcards that were handed out to her fans – she still had many despite being outcast by many more – and on the front was written, ‘Our Gracie.’ Banks’ response to her gesture was to say words to the effect of, “You’re everyone else’s but never mine”. Gracie then added a ‘Y’ to the ‘Our’, and it would’ve brought a tear to a glass eye.
It was a real treat to witness Hollander and Horrock’s on-screen charisma and charm, and as a couple, they were utterly believable. The looks that speak volumes, the banter, the body language; it all added up to a drama of a quality one might not expect of what I believe may have been a relatively low budget production.
It’s nice to know that not everything needs millions of pounds lobbed at it to make it a valuable and worthwhile piece of television that will bear repeating many times without losing its charm.