White Heat: a piece of original British drama starring seven young actors; six of them relatively unknown and emerging from obscurity in one of the finest adaptations the BBC has produced in recent History. Spanning five decades – each of the six episodes set several years on from the previous part and with appropriate costumes, props and hairstyles to reinforce this – the series follows the trials and tribulations of seven students who have descended on London to begin their undergraduate degree courses, all aged eighteen and from an assortment of different backgrounds.
There’s Charlotte – finely acted by Claire Foy (of Little Dorrit and Upstairs Downstairs fame) who leads the gallant band of fine young thespians (both acting and character-wise) – a resolute middle-class girl from Buckinghamshire, eager to experience the freedom the Big Smoke has to offer, whom embraces the sixties as if it were up for auction to another century and revels in the liberty it affords her. There’s a particularly memorable scene in one of the early episodes in which Charlie (as she quickly becomes known to the gang) has a stand-off with her father on the steps outside the flat after he interrupts her New Years Eve party. He showers her with insults ranging from jibes about the shortness of her dress to his disgust at her new-found smoking habit.
A deep-rooted theme of the six-part drama is women’s rights – a cause which Charlotte and fellow feminist and flatmate Lilly (Myanna Buring) campaign for in their own thrilling way by covering adverts (and sometimes people) with stickers proclaiming “this man degrades women” before being chased away by the police. Lilly, an art student, is forced to endure a battle with her none-too-impressed parents who look unfavourably on her chosen career path and would instead prefer her to return to Yorkshire to work in her auntie’s shop. She also faces personal crises with catastrophic consequences both for her and the remaining six, although these disasters are somewhat softened by the presence of Alan (Lee Ingleby), who adores her from the very first time the seven sit down for dinner in the flat.
Of all the themes White Heat encapsulates in the total six hours of its existence, it is those of feminism and rights which grabbed me most and made me sit up and listen. It is strange to see women such as Lilly and Charlotte fighting for their reproductive liberty and egalitarianism when, for many countries in the western world today, abortion is available practically on demand. It is unfathomable, at least to me, why some people (and this includes men as well) don’t use their vote after the dedication of so many lives to the cause resulted in forced feeding, imprisonment and even death. Although this thread is a little off topic, if White Heat had been set at the turn of the 20th century I can guarantee the chief aim for the female characters would have been Votes For Women.
If you’re interested in reading an actual review I can heartily recommend this article from The Guardian which presents a perhaps more balanced perspective of White Heat. All six episodes are available on iPlayer until Thursday and if you want to read up on the characters before watching you can visit the BBC’s White Heat Homepage. One final push required to beat you into viewing submission? I can reveal that all seven students are played by not one but two actors. Episode one actually begins in 2012 when the gang regroup after the death of one of them requires the flat to be cleared and sold, with the older Charlotte being played by stalwart of British acting Juliet Stevenson and Lilly by the equally formidable Lindsay Duncan. They’re performances alone make White Heat worthy of a viewing, however sceptical that viewer may be. Let me know what you think.