Karaoke & Cold Lazarus DVD (1996, Acorn Media)
Any TV drama that begins with an anal examination cross-cut with a Karaoke rendition of ‘Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love?’ has Dennis Potter’s fingerprints all over it. And so, the final works of this late, great genius are finally coming to DVD (available in a fantastic box set, or individually – though be aware that they are interlinked pieces). In a unique collaboration between Channel 4 and the BBC (part of Potter’s final wishes, as he’d worked for both in his time), Karaoke originally aired on the former and its sequel Cold Lazarus on the latter. And a brilliant epitaph they are too, for the writer who gave us such gems as Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective.
In Karaoke, TV writer Daniel Feeld (the always excellent Albert Finney) discovers that the script of his latest production is being spoken by people in the real world. Most notably, Sandra Sollars (Saffron Burrows) seems to be mimicking the exact dialogue that Linda Langer (Keeley Hawes) is saying in a restaurant scene near the beginning. Following Sandra to her place of work, a karaoke bar, Dan discovers that she also has a similar job – that of a hostess at the club, working for the villainous Arthur ‘Pig’ Mallion (a superb turn by Hywel Bennett) – and is in just as much danger.
Meanwhile, the director of the fictional Karaoke Nick Balmer (again, a brilliantly cast Richard E. Grant) is being blackmailed by Linda who, in a strange twist of fate, also works for Mallion… and is carrying out a plan not unlike that of her character from the series. But is it all one big cosmic joke, madness brought on by the fact that Dan has terminal cancer, or has he come across Mallion before? The perfect ending will leave you smiling. But, as we soon discover, it’s not really the end…
Cold Lazarus picks up 400 years later, when Dan’s frozen head is being plundered for its memories. A casual mention towards the end of Karaoke of cryogenics and virtual reality now becomes the focus for another storyline, where Dr Emma Porlock (Miss Jones herself, Frances de la Tour) is initially attempting to break new scientific ground but eventually finds herself in bed with the enemy. TV executive David Siltz (Henry Goodman) is determined to broadcast Daniel Feeld’s recollections into the heads of his viewing public (via bizarre-looking Cronenbergian head devices that look like brains).
Making enemies of both Siltz’s boss, Martina Masdon (Dianne Ladd) and the R.O.N. (Reality or Nothing) group terrorising the future London, Porlock and her team try to unravel what Dan is telling them through his thoughts, which leads to an explosive but satisfying climax.
What can I say? From the stellar cast, which also includes such luminaries as Star Wars actor Ian McDiarmid (looking remarkably like Potter himself), Roy Hudd (as Dan’s agent, complete with spoonerisms), Liz Smith, Alison Steadman (a terrific little turn as Sandra’s scarred mother, obsessed with jigsaws), Anna Chancellor, Fay Ripley, Ciarán Hinds, Grant Masters, plus blink and you might miss them cameos from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Natascha McElhone and Rupert Penry-Jones, to the humorous, thought-provoking script which dwells on – quite appropriately – what we’re doing here and what awaits us next, not to mention the political ramifications of future science and the nods towards previous Potter productions (“I remember when I could make a whole ward sing…”), this is a TV event that has waited far too long for a DVD release. If there’s one complaint it’s the lack of extras, which only include Potter’s biography and cast filmographies. Very highly recommended indeed. Paul Kane