Eighteen days to go before the Olympics, and Ian (Hugh Bonneville) has a question about the budget. Either there is a £500 million contingency fund or there isn’t – the difference between being able to afford a last-minute disaster and not. He makes it sound like a present he could get the staff. The Deliverance Team are preparing to hand over the organization to the Live Team, which presumably makes the Deliverance Team qualify as “undead”. Seems fair, given some of the malarkey we’ve seen over the series. It’s an appropriately bathetic end to the series that they’re not looking forward to the opening ceremony, international dignitaries and a haul of medals, but rather to the filling in of a stack of paperwork and a slink off via the car park.
The first meeting of the week is to locate any loose ends going forward (I’m pretty sure loose ends going forward means they’d be unravelling), and the writing really takes off here. The characters are firmly established so they can talk over each other without worrying that the audience will lose track of who is making what joke and how that relates to their role. I wish we’d had more of this earlier in the series, and that Twenty Twelve had trusted us to keep up, because when they choose to take the speed up a bit, a decent farcical rhythm develops. It’s thoroughly pleasing watching Kay try to shut Fi’s point down before she’s made it, and Graham complain about the deadline before Ian has managed to set it. The main loose end seems to be the ground-to-air missiles which may be triggered by the fireworks during the opening ceremony. Fi’s suggestion that the anti-terrorist ordnance be somehow incorporated into a celebration of Olympic values is deemed to require rather more thought that is available to make it work, or indeed decide whether it really is as stupid as it appears on the surface.
It’s ten o’clock, and for Ian, almost time for his ten o’clock meeting. David Tennant gets another good line in before Ian has to face a discussion about the competition to design a peal of bells to commemorate the games. Alas Twenty Twelve isn’t going to dive into the complexity of campanology, change-ringing and ecclesiopastoral – it knows what happens when a good story gets derailed by crashing snobbery and bell-ringing. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, that’s what. And Twenty Twelve isn’t taking the risk, so we get a contained little storyline in which a fusty old schoolmaster and an irritating proponent of “found music” are the only two entries. Aled Jones (best remembered as the choirboy who sang “We’re Walking In The Air” from The Snowman) makes a more generous appearance than Seb Coe, as he spends the episode being the celebrity no-one wanted to book for this gig.
As the end of the project looms, a lot of people are looking to the next job, whilst insisting that their attention has never wavered from the immediate success of Deliverance as both an aspiration, brand, approach to diversity and a thing that always makes you think about that banjo song. Fi (Morvern Christie) and Kay (Amelia Bullmore) have both been sounding Ian out about the possibility of their being rivals for the position of Head of Posterity. One assumes they’re trading on their proven ability to make a total posterior out of any project. Unbeknownst to them, Ian has also applied for the job, but when Daniel (Samuel Barnett) drops in to leak the shortlist, none of them are on it. Sally (Olivia Colman) tries to console Ian with muffins, pastries of Danish origin and so on, but it seems what he really wants is just some time away. Somewhere hot and quiet, where he can sit in the corner of the old square late into the evening and drink Pinot Grigio with his book.
The image takes them both over, and Sally spends the rest of the episode trying to be his travel agent for this idyll. She actually calls several bars in old squares in possible locations to enquire whether they would extend their opening hours in the interests of pastoral perfection. As with everything Sally does in this series, there’s a weight of desperation and longing behind the over-organized admin. And a quiet awareness of how ridiculous she is being, which can’t help her stop being this way. As we careen towards some sort of denouement, Ian admits to the camera that there is something going on, or at least the potential for something to go on. I was suggesting to a friend that the (non)-love affair between Ian and Sally is the relationship between Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) and Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) in Spooks, though Colman doesn’t carry the same air of unbelievable sensuality bundled together with her anxiety as Walker does. (I saw Walker in Season’s Greetings at the National Theatre last Christmas, and she is incredible in person: managed to totally out-smoulder Catherine Tate in a duffel coat and boots.) My friend said that actually Bonneville is playing a grown-up version of those early roles Hugh Grant took, the bumbling, charming English gent who clearly deserves the girl even though he can’t quite ask her. I think that’s very true, and there’s an added layer of disingenuousness that Bonneville projects: that the extra decades of being coddled and taken care of have made Ian dimly aware of the advantages of mining this seam of charming helplessness. I can’t spoil whether he asks her to go away with him or not, because we never find out. Bloody indecisive British…
Dr. Jem Bloomfield studied at the universities of Oxford and Exeter and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Drama at Oxford Brookes. His research covers the performance of Early Modern drama and the various ways it has been adapted and co-opted throughout the centuries. His own plays include “Bewick Gaudy”, which won the Cameron Mackintosh Award for New Writing, and he is working on a version of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops To Conquer”. His writing on arts, culture, and politics have appeared in “California Literary Review”, “Strand Magazine” and “Liberal Conspiracy”. He blogs at “Quite Irregular” and can be found on Twitter @jembloomfield