Friends and Crocodiles
Friends and Crocodiles
Starts Sunday 15 January at 9.00pm on BBC ONE
"Epic" and "extraordinary" are two of the most over-used epithets in the critical lexicon.
However, Friends and Crocodiles is a film that, for once, absolutely merits them.
Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff - the filmmaker previously responsible for such memorable and award-winning work as The Lost Prince (the recent recipient of three International Emmy Awards), Perfect Strangers and Shooting the Past - Friends and Crocodiles is a sweeping drama that tells the tale of the working relationship of two very different characters: the inspirational yet maverick Paul (Damian Lewis) and the more pragmatic and sensible Lizzie (Jodhi May).
It is set against the backdrop of the rapidly changing business environment of the Eighties and Nineties. It is both a deeply moving personal story and a panoramic view of a society in the grip of cataclysmic change.
Nicolas Brown, the producer of Friends and Crocodiles, praises the peerless vision of the writer-director.
"Over the last few years, Stephen has produced the most original, distinctive and interesting work in television drama. He's unique in that he's an auteur working in television. Nobody conjures up imaginative worlds in the way that he does.
"In his work, he creates dramatic universes that manage to be both recognisable and completely fresh, startling and insightful.
"No one else currently working in TV drama can do that. He's interested in doing what hasn't been done before. That's what makes his films both unique and
Poliakoff begins by outlining the aims of the film.
"It's about work, ambition, aspiration, respect, self-esteem, which are all things that motivate us as much as, if not more than sexual love. We work longer hours than anyone else in Europe and often see more of our work colleagues than our families."
However, the writer-director continues: "Most of all, the film is about how many certainties have melted away as things have become much more fluid and fast.
"Until the early Eighties, technology had been static for decades. When
Noel Coward had his first play at the Everyman in the Twenties, he ran up the stairs to be greeted by a young man with a typewriter.
"When I had my first play at the Bush in the Seventies, I had exactly the same experience. There
were no answer-phones, no mobile phones and no computers.
"Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, things changed with an increase in sexual freedom and more outlandish clothes, but a traditional view of the world, if you like, remained intact.
"The way society was run, with old people telling the young what to do, stayed exactly the same.
"Then all of a sudden, the fabric of life changed completely. That change has always intrigued me, and I thought it would make a good basis for a drama because it's never been tackled before."
The radical changes that society underwent in the Eighties and Nineties are told through the evolving relationship between Paul and Lizzie.
They first meet in the early Eighties, when Paul is living a Great Gatsby-style existence in a sumptuous country house. There he is surrounded by a salon of interesting people he has collected, including the eminently clubbable journalist, Sneath (played by Robert Lindsay).
He also dreams up radical plans to transform city centres, is passionate about the potential of wind power and keeps crocodiles, convinced they may have a health benefit for humans.
Having only dabbled up to now, Paul decides to employ the level-headed Lizzie to put his sometimes wayward, yet visionary ideas into action.
Over the next 20 years, they try to work together on a succession of variously successful business projects, Paul's dreamy idealism often clashing with Lizzie's more down-to-earth practicality.
"I've always been fascinated by how we're affected by people who mentor us early on in our careers," Poliakoff continues.
"We think about them often for the rest of our lives. We constantly want to please them but, if they behave badly, it feels like a terrible betrayal, almost worse than a sexual betrayal.
"It can be very disillusioning and very haunting. One of the themes that runs through the film is that we should always try to work with people who threaten and push us.
"There aren't many relationships like this depicted in fiction because the market place insists on romance. But as this is not a Hollywood movie, I don't have to stay within that convention. In fact, I never want to have to stay within any conventions!"
Nicolas Brown - who has also produced Ladies in Lavender, White Teeth, Nicholas Nickleby, Deceit and Hope and Glory - chips in with his own assessment of the central relationship in Friends and Crocodiles.
"It's initially a boss and secretary relationship, but it develops into a story about the people we meet at work who have a profound effect on us.
"Paul and Lizzie have a massive influence on each other. It's not a conventional romance, it's much more layered and subtle than that.
is inspired by Paul and wants his respect. She wants to make things happen
and becomes his right-hand woman. She's intensely loyal and gets enormously upset when she sees him wasting his potential.
"Paul and Lizzie's relationship is about respect and it's about finding a way of connecting and communicating with work colleagues.
"These are people you were born to spend most of your time with, without ever marrying or sleeping with them.
It's a connection that millions of us have."
Brown concludes by saying that Friends and Crocodiles reflects, "how the
world has dramatically speeded up in the last two decades. The film starts
in the early Eighties, when there was plenty of time and no rush.
that began to change in the mid-Eighties with the arrival of mobiles and then email. Now there is never enough time, and as a result it seems that perfectly intelligent people can make really stupid decisions.
"In the film, we watch a big company implode because of thoughtless and
hasty decisions. It becomes obsessed with management consultants and
reorganising its offices.
"The world is now a much faster place, with no
time to think or dream. Having space to dream is really important because
it allows writers like Stephen Poliakoff to produce films like Friends and Crocodiles."
Friends and Crocodiles is a TalkBack Thames production, part of the FremantleMedia Group, for the BBC.
Further information about Stephen Poliakoff and his forthcoming films on BBC channels - including a season on BBC FOUR - will be on bbc.co.uk/poliakoff.