1 9 9 1 (UK)
6 x 50 minute episodes
RAF Flying Officer Hugh Fleming (Nigel Havers) is shot down and badly burned during the Battle of Britain in September 1940.
The sheer horror of the air accident, which threatens to leave Fleming’s face and hands with permanent scars, is superbly handled by Anna Jones’ make-up department, creating an effect that is necessarily gruesome without going over the top.
The attention paid to period detail, in terms of sets and costume, is equally impressive.
Havers is superb, despite obviously struggling with a script that at times veers dangerously close to parody. Given the nature of the plot, one would have expected some powerful dialogue, but only Havers and James Fox really waded through Allan Prior’s script without coming across as pale stereotypes.
The language used dredged up so many cliched pre-war phrases – “jolly good show, old chap” and so on – that most of the actors were left stranded in an inappropriately melodramatic swamp.
The women characters, in particular, were disappointingly one-dimensional, from the rather wet Bunty (Fiona Gillies) to the stern Sister Gryce (Rosalind Knight).
The potency of the story was also undermined by the use of videotape rather than film, which left the piece with a feel closer to Howards’ Way than to a war-time tragedy.
The camera work was good but spoilt by the unnecessary use of a variety of coloured lenses and filters. If these had been used consistently in some of the retrospective sequences they might have been effective, but, employed haphazardly, were irritating on the eye.
The ‘lighter’ brand of drama for which ITV is best known may be looked down upon by television purists, but audiences clearly expressed their enjoyment of it in the kind of ratings that the commercial network racked up for these programmes.
The likes of The Charmer may not have cleaned up at the BAFTA awards but were undoubtedly popular viewing. But, although its production values – script aside – may have put it on a par with some of these series, A Perfect Hero‘s harrowing subject matter made it an uncomfortable bedfellow for them.