Sunday, 9 October 2011

"This is me, this is me"



We watched the BBC's new "docu-drama" [another phrase I hate] about the early life of the ultimate diva Miss Shirley Bassey the other night, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Shirley takes the story from Miss Bassey's poverty-stricken childhood in Cardiff, child of a white mother from Hartlepool and a soon-to-be-absent Jamaican father, through the pain of achieving her ambition to become a star. Given the onerous task of playing such a singular character, the Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga did a sterling job, with all the sassiness and hutzpah required to convincingly portray the transformation Miss Bassey achieved every time she stood in front of her audience. On occasion, we cheered!

At times the drama did feel a little "compacted" to fit its allotted time (and presumably the BBC budget) - the "abandoned" baby hidden from the public, the often violent relationship with her manager, the rise and fall of her marriage to gay film producer Kenneth Hume, the extramarital pregnancy, the reaction of society to the ascendance of a black star in a white entertainment world - but despite cramming a lot in, this just had the effect of making us want more.



According to the Herald Scotland review:
"I’m surprised it’s taken the BBC this long because her life is just right for this kind of drama: it’s tragedy with glittery bits, it’s the story arc of poverty-talent-success to the soundtrack of a big voice, it’s a woman singing "I Who Have Nothing" while wearing an expensive diamond necklace. In other words, contradiction, pain and struggle.

Ruth Negga, who plays Bassey, gets the visuals just about right too because she homes on all the physical traits that make the singer memorable: the swaggering hips, the twitching lips and those swooping, sweeping arms that – you may not know this – Bassey uses to spell out secret semaphore messages to her gay fans. On top of all that, there’s the jewellery and the voice (the real one dubbed over Negga’s imperfect miming) which, all in all, makes the whole thing a kind of impersonation, a drag act. A perfectly good one, but a drag act."
The critics have not been universally kind to the production, but in my opinion in concentrating on the parts I think they have rather missed the sum of them - a heartwarming, camp, excellently-acted melodrama, much like Miss Bassey's real life, in fact!

Thus far, Shirley is not available on BBC iPlayer, but inevitably it will be shown again - catch it if you can.

This early performance by Our Shirl was perfectly portrayed by Miss Negga (right down to the hair flicks and gestures) in the programme:



Funny how a lonely day, can make a person say:
What good is my life
Funny how a breaking heart, can make me start to say:
What good is my life
Funny how I often seem, to think I'll find never another dream
In my life
Till I look around and see, this great big world is part of me
And my life

This is my life
Today, tomorrow, love will come and find me
But that's the way that I was born to be
This is me
This is me

This is my life
And I don't give a damn for lost emotions
I've such a lot of love I've got to give
Let me live
Let me live

Sometime when I feel afraid, I think of what a mess I've made
Of my life
Crying over my mistakes, forgetting all the breaks I've had
In my life
I was put on earth to be, a part of this great world is me
And my life
Guess I'll just add up the score, and count the things I'm grateful for
In my life

This Is my life
Today, tomorrow, love will come and find me
But that's the way that I was born to be
This is me
This is me

This is my life
And I don't give a damn for lost emotions
I've such a lot of love I've got to give
Let me live
Let me live

This is my life
This is my life


More about the story of Shirley in The New Statesman

4 comments:

  1. Oh my - I would love to see this!!! Hope it will come out on DVD.

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  2. Knowing the BBC it definitely will - but not before they have flogged it to other TV broadcasters across the globe. Does Icelandic TV get many BBC programmes? Jx

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  3. I actually never watch TV, so I have no idea. Years ago, when I was a kid, there was a lot of BBC programs on the TV though...

    I will keep an eye out for a DVD release (hopefully it will be better then the recent release of the Boy George documentary - I still havent bought it, since most of the music was replaced for the DVD!)

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  4. I don't blame you for not bothering, given the dire output of most TV channels these days. However, the Beeb still has the capacity to churn out classy programmes like this - and even ITV has smartened up its act lately with "Downton Abbey"... I don't know if and when this will hit the DVD stands, but I suppose Xmas is coming! Jx

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