Saturday, February 26, 2011

The final episode of "Any Human Heart" (on "Masterpiece Classic") is shaping up as an event


Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

The final episode of Any Human Heart airs this week on most PBS stations. In the New York area, for example, it's tomorrow night on channel 13 and Monday night on channel 21. I'm hooked enough that I may actually watch it in real time tomorrow night. (Episodes can be viewed online, by the way, so if you've got some free time, you could get caught up in time to watch the finale in real time too. Or you can watch the whole thing online, of course -- through March 22.)
How can a man in the bloom of youth, pursuing writing and sex with equal vigor, end up grizzled, old, and surrounded by piles of boxes and paper, the detritus of a life? The answer is the story of Logan Mountstuart, who believes, "Every human being is a collection of selves...we never stay just one person." And the twentieth century provides the perfect backdrop for Logan to live out his lives, drinking absinthe with Ernest Hemingway, initiated into intrigue by Ian Fleming, and embroiled in the arch expat world of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. A novelist, war correspondent, father, spy, prisoner of war, art dealer, husband, and many times over, a lover — an Everyman of sorts -- Logan is played at three junctures of his life by Sam Claflin, Matthew Macfadyen (Little Dorrit), and Jim Broadbent. An intimate take on a sweeping century, Any Human Heart is based on the bestselling book by William Boyd and also stars Kim Cattrall (My Boy Jack), Gillian Anderson (Bleak House) and Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park).
-- PBS's (pretty accurate) descriptive blurb for
Masterpiece Classic series Any Human Heart

by Ken

I really wasn't expecting much (anything?) from Any Human Heart, in part because the promotional materials place such stress on the "historical" figures who litter the screenplay, written by William Boyd based on his own novel. I have to say that, two episodes in, the series has gripped me to the point of making me curious about the book.

Those historical figures actually do matter, but they're not used in the way you might expect from description like that in the above blurb, though the portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Tom Hollander and Gillian Anderson), whom we meet first as the prince of Wales and his mistress, is scabrous enough -- and deservedly so, I gather -- as to be worth the price of admission by itself. But, just to give you a sort of example of how the material seems to me to work, the chief takeaway from our protagonist Logan Mountstuart's acquaintance with the Duke and Duchess is his head-on encounter with the concept of betrayal, being branded a Judas when for one of the few times in his life he is actually behaving in a competent and scrupulous fashion.

Perhaps I should explain the narrative format of the show, which shows us Logan at the various stages of his life: as a child in Uruguay (his mother was Uruguayan), as a university student and up-and-coming graduate (played by Sam Claflin), as a mature adult (played by Matthew Madfadyen -- Tom of TV's MI-5, or Spooks, if you want to be pedantic), and as an old man (played by Jim Broadbent). Mostly what we're seeing is the aged Logan literally going through and burning that "detritus" of his life cited in the PBS blurb, and in so doing, with an assist from the journals that seem to be the closest thing in his life to an honest accomplishment, reviewing that life.

Since, apart from bits of voiceover, Jim Broadbent as the aged Logan is given no dialogue, at least in those first two episodes, any sense we get of what the scenes from his life mean to him or add up to him has to come from watching his late-life reactions. In general, those reactions seem to range from distressed to appalled.

Matthew Macfadyen, Jim Broadbent, and Sam Claflin as Logan

If you're at all susceptible to this kind of material -- that is, attempting to encompass the totality of a life in a single large gulp -- Any Human Heart is fascinating, and devastating. Again going only by those first two episodes, what we see is mostly Logan stumbling through life, mostly unaware of anything except his urges of the moment, under the pretext of living according to the principle passed down to him by his ailing father: that life is just a matter of luck, your good luck and your bad luck. (It's worth considering that those words had a distinctly different import coming out of the mouth of a man who, however tedious his career path to running a highly profitable food-processing company may seem, actually worked, and worked hard, for everything he got in the way of a living.)

Mostly, Logan enjoys good luck, but he does as little to deserve that as he does to deserve the stroke of hellaciously, cosmically monstrous luck that in time befalls him. Which again is why his encounter with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor seems so tragicomically appropriate. Though appallingly ill equipped for the mission that puts him in their semi-royal company in the Bahamas, he tries for once in his life to act responsibly, and is treated like . . . well, like a Judas, as the Duke and Duchess put it so graphically.

I have to admit that on one count I've overstated a bit. I've been claiming to have watched the first two episodes. In fact, I haven't quite finished the second. I've had the DVR on pause while I wrote this. I'm going to go back now and finish up the second episode, and as I wrote in the caption for the above clip, there's a good chance that I'll watch the final episode in real time tomorrow night.

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At 7:21 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Wasn't aware of this, thanks. The book is excellent. Among my favorite recent works.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Glad to be of help, Softail.

I'm thinking I may actually have to read the damned book. Sigh.


At 7:58 AM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Thanks for the tip Ken. This was good to the last episode and that was good too.


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