Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Execution of Gary Glitter, C4

Here's a review what I wrote for Orange of last night's slightly odd drama The Execution of Gary Glitter.

Paedophilia and the death sentence are two subjects that people generally have pretty strong views about. So how did this oddly conceived dramatised imagining of the fictional execution of Paul Francis Gadd (aka Gary Glitter) turn out so utterly unengaging?

For a start, the format of the programme was a bit of a mish-mash. Emphatic title cards told us that “THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION” and “WE ARE IN AN IMAGINARY BRITAIN” where the death penalty was re-introduced after the Soham murders of 2003. However, it then became a mix of conventional drama and documentary-style interviews with the characters involved in the case.

It got even weirder when politician Ann Widdecombe, journalist Miranda Sawyer and media rent-a-gob Garry Bushell turned up to add their tuppenceworth. It only became clear later that they were playing fictional versions of themselves, commenting on the action depicted in the drama.

Hilton McRae gave a suitably creepy performance as the devious and manipulative sex offender, but there was very little suspense as the film trudged through the legal proceedings leading to his execution for child abuse in Vietnam. In fact, the first bit of tension came 10 minutes from the end of the 90-minute film, when it seemed like the Home Secretary might offer him a reprieve.

Presumably the programme was designed to spark Heated Debate over the rights and wrongs of the death penalty. However, the “members of the public” who popped up to offer both sides of the argument were totally unconvincing; one was even given the immortal line, “If you don't like it, go and live somewhere else”.

The drama culminated in a bizarre sequence on the day of Gadd's execution, when the condemned popster freaked out after hearing a remix of 'Leader of the Gang' that included samples from his court room evidence. After he smashed the radio, he was taken to the gallows and hanged. Everyone went home again. The end.

There's obviously compelling drama to be drawn from the debate over the death penalty, how we should deal with paedophiles and the effect celebrity can have on society. However, The Execution of Gary Glitter seemed to miss the target completely and turn such emotive subjects into something surprisingly bland.

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