Another Bouquet (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (4th October 2010).
The Show

Another Bouquet (LWT, 1977)

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Famously referred to as ‘The House of Atreus transferred to Peyton Place’ by Clive James (during his tenure as television critic for The Observer), Andrea Newman’s popular 1976 London Weekend Television television drama Bouquet of Barbed Wire drew upon the recognisable themes of classical mythology in its depiction of a family torn apart by incestuous (and quasi-incestuous) desire (James, quoted in Bignell, 2004: 237). Adapted by Andrea Newman, from her sixth novel (bearing the same title) that was first published in 1969, the series – remade in 2010 by ITV – focused on the devoutly middle-class Manson family. (When writing the 1969 novel on which the series is based, Newman may or may not have picked the family's surname from the headlines: Charles Manson's 'family' offered a similar perversion of the conservative concept of 'family values'.) Peter (Frank Finlay), the head of the household, is an affluent publisher who harbours a buried incestuous desire for his daughter Prue (Susan Penhaligon). The manipulative Prue has learnt to use her father’s attention to her advantage (in the novel, Prue asserts that ‘I exploit him, I know I do. Or victimize him even [….] I simply can’t avoid it: an irresistible impulse to play the little girl, to see how far I can go, to what level of self-indulgence he will allow me to sink’). When Prue returns from university, she is both pregnant and married; her husband is an American student, Gavin Sorenson (James Aubrey). Peter struggles to hide his dislike (and jealousy) of Gavin, whilst Gavin embarks on an affair with his mother-in-law, Peter’s unsatisfied wife Cassie (Sheila Allen); meanwhile, Peter conducts an affair with his secretary, Sarah Francis (Deborah Grant).

In Visible Fictions (1992), John Ellis suggests that Bouquet of Barbed Wire is a key example of a form of television that takes existing tropes with which the audience is familiar and comfortable (in this case, the conventions of the family-based television melodrama or soap opera) and ‘return[s] those notions with something added, returning them, as it were, refreshed, rejuvenated, with a slight spice of surprise, a frisson of scandal that indicates the programme […] is going beyond the purely taken-for-granted conceptions of its audience’ (Ellis, 1992: 63). As Clive James noted in his review of the series following its original broadcast, Bouquet of Barbed Wire differed from many contemporaneous series in its focus on an astutely middle-class family: noting that the series ‘won’t rot your brains like The Brothers’ (the BBC’s 1970s series focusing on the Hammond brothers – played by Richard Easton & Robin Chadwick – who own a haulage firm), James added that ‘Nor will you see – as in so many other series currently on the screen – the roof of a coal mine fall on the hero’s father. Instead there is plenty of solid middle-class adultery’ (James, 1976: np).

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Part of the joy of Bouquet of Barbed Wire came from watching the comfortable middle-class existence of the Mansons being vaporised from within. The series faced criticism in some quarters, for both its coverage of the taboo theme of incest and for its reliance on the conventions of melodrama; and at the time of the broadcast of the 2010 remake, Andrea Newman asserted that she believed the criticisms directed at Bouquet of Barbed Wire came about because critics ‘were embarrassed by the intensity of emotion on the screen, and it was easier to send it up’ than to take it seriously (Newman, 2010: np). Newman has asserted that although ‘the on-screen atmosphere was very erotic’, almost no nudity was shown in the series; and although ‘[t]here was much talk about incest’, it only existed ‘in the subconscious mind of the father, who would have been shocked by the reality’ (ibid.).

The popularity of Bouquet of Barbed Wire led to the production of a sequel, Another Bouquet (LWT, 1977). This series begins six months after the events depicted in Bouquet of Barbed Wire: after the death of Prue in childbirth, Peter made the decision to leave his family and live alone. Meanwhile, Gavin is still in close contact with Cassie, who as the series opens is taking care of Prue and Gavin’s infant daughter, Eve. Gavin has also acquired a new girlfriend, Vicky (Elizabeth Romilly).

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As the series progresses, Peter makes an attempt to reconnect with his wife Cassie; however, Cassie struggles with her feelings for her son-in-law Gavin. Reluctantly settled in his relationship with the needy Vicky, Gavin begins to accept his responsibilities as Eve’s father. He tells Vicky about his affair with Cassie. However, Vicky struggles to accept the presence of Eve, and when Gavin returns to his flat to find Vicky shouting at the baby, Gavin commands Vicky to pack her things and leave his home. By chance, Peter arrives at Gavin’s flat and finds Vicky in a hysterical state. Attempting to console the distraught Vicky, Peter is exposed to the revelation that Gavin and Cassie had conducted an affair – something of which Peter had been unaware. Peter begins to rekindle his affair with Sarah, who becomes pregnant and must then negotiate the repercussions of telling her husband Geoff (Eric Carte) about her extra-marital relationship with Peter. However, Peter begins to develop feelings for Vicky, whose role in the series doubles that of Prue in Bouquet of Barbed Wire.

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As the above synopsis might suggest, Another Bouquet treads much of the same ground as Bouquet of Barbed Wire. However, in contrast with Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Another Bouquet offers a more abundant display of nudity: within the first few episodes, there are a number of (seemingly dramatically unmotivated) shots of a bare-breasted Vicky – filmed voyeuristically through the window of Gavin’s flat as she changes her clothes or gets ready for bed. The net result is a series that feels like a slightly more exploitative retread of themes covered in the earlier series.

Throughout Another Bouquet, the series exhibits a cynical attitude towards family and romantic relationships: all of the characters are on some level guilty of deceiving one another, and it is these deceptions that threaten to tear apart all of the relationships depicted in the narrative. The opening moments of the first episode delineate the conflicts between men and women that underlie the series. This episode, ‘Changes’, opens with a sequence that cuts between Peter’s return to his former home (and his first encounter with Eve), and Gavin returning from work to be greeted by Vicky. Peter’s reunion with Cassie is uncomfortable, and likewise Gavin’s conversation with Vicky is stilted and juxtaposes Vicky’s enthusiasm with Gavin’s surly disinterest in Vicky. 'I spend my life going backwards and forwards just to change my clothes. It's bloody tiring and a waste of money', Vicky tells Gavin – subtly suggesting that she wishes to move in with him. However, Gavin is more reticent about their relationship, pithily responding to her comment by asserting, 'Just don't push me, is all, okay?'

From the outset, Gavin and Vicky’s relationship seems to underscore Another Bouquet’s bitter attitude towards relationships. Aware that Gavin still pines for Prue, Vicky’s overriding need for Gavin’s affections becomes increasingly self-destructive. (In the first episode, Vicky points out Prue’s clothes, which are still in Gavin’s flat. ‘Gavin, she’s dead’, Vicky asserts. ‘Why aren’t you dead instead of her?’ Gavin spitefully retorts.) Trying on one of Prue’s dresses, Vicky is interrupted by Gavin; presumably seeing Vicky as a substitute for his dead wife Prue, Gavin rapes Vicky, who, after the event, cries ‘You hurt me’ before pitifully declaring ‘Please love me’. Later, Vicky puts on the same dress she wore when Gavin raped her, in the hope of getting some sexual attention from the disinterested Gavin: 'I don't mind pretending; I'll do anything you like [….] But you liked it, you know you did'. However, Gavin rejects her advances. As Gavin begins to dedicate more time to raising Eve, having the baby stay at night in his flat, Vicky becomes resentful of the presence of Gavin and Prue’s child; her patience with Eve’s crying reaches boiling point when she screams at the baby (‘Stop that noise! Stop it, you bastard, stop it!’) just as Gavin returns home.

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Another Bouquet is sometimes difficult to watch for its aggressive pursuit of taboo themes. In Gavin’s desire for his dead wife (and Vicky’s willingness to dress up as Prue and her offer to ‘do anything you like’), there are intimations of the kind of necrophilic desire that are found in Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poetry (‘Annabel Lee’, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Oval Portrait’). The suggestion of necrophilic desire is compounded when, in the same episode, Geoff confesses to Sarah that 'As a matter of fact, there's something about death makes me feel awfully randy', telling his wife that he thought that when his father died, he would lose his interest in sex – only to discover that the opposite was true. Likewise, Peter’s increasing interest in Vicky is troubling because it is suggested that, like Gavin, Peter sees Vicky as a substitute for his daughter Prue. Vicky also foregrounds the quasi-incestuous nature of Gavin’s affair with Cassie: ‘Didn’t it feel wrong? [….] It’s like incest’, Vicky responds when Gavin tells her that he conducted a relationship with his mother-in-law.

The series has some very powerful moments: the third episode ends with a family dinner (including Cassie, Peter and Gavin) in which Peter's patience is gradually worn short, and he eventually vents his spleen at Gavin for both Gavin’s abuse of Prue and the affair that he conducted with Cassie. The scene is dramatically fulfilling because it offers a static and objective depiction of a family in meltdown, with Peter’s outburst of anger and aggression erupting gradually – and filmed in an almost clinical manner. Finlay's performance as Peter is impressive throughout the series, and arguably anchors the narrative.

Disc One:
'Changes' (50:52)
'Tensions' (49:09)
'Accusations' (51:17)
'Reprisals' (49:50)

Disc Two:
5. 'Resolutions' (49:01)
6. 'Emergencies' (45:07)
7. 'Departures' (50:10)
Special Features:
Andrea Newman: An Ability to Shock (text)
Text Biographies:
James Aubrey
Sheila Allen

Video

The series is presented in its original broadcast screen ratio of 1.33:1. No break bumpers are present in the episodes.

Apparently shot in a mixture of film (for location footage) and video (for in-studio footage), Another Bouquet is well-presented on this DVD release. The episodes suffer from little damage, and both the filmed and shot-on-video footage fare well.

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Audio

The series is presented with a two-channel stereo soundtrack. This is clear and audible. Sadly, there are no subtitles.

Extras

The second disc contains three text-based extras: biographies of Sheila Allen and James Aubrey, and an overview of writer Andrea Newman's career.

Overall

Another Bouquet foregrounds some of the themes that were buried in the subtext of Bouquet of Barbed Wire. Its more direct tackling of taboo subjects means that it sometimes seems a little more exploitative than its predecessor, almost as if the series is attempting to prove the criticisms levelled against Bouquet of Barbed Wire. Another Bouquet certainly offers some of the nudity that some critics (mistakenly) suggested was an overriding feature of Bouquet of Barbed Wire. As with Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Another Bouquet's depiction of middle-class family life being torn apart by repressed desires could be seen as subtly subversive, both of the genre of television melodrama and of wider social attitudes towards the concept of the family. The series is anchored by some strong performances – most notably Finlay's performance as Peter, which throughout the episodes suggests the destructive dangers of repression. Although not as easy to recommend as Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Another Bouquet is a worthwhile, sometimes challenging drama. With only a small cast, the series' seven episodes offer an intimate, claustrophobic depiction of the implosion of middle-class family life that is challenging: with very few optimistic moments spread throughout the episodes, the series can be difficult to watch but is consistently thought-provoking.

The series is available both on its own and in a boxed set that also contains Bouquet of Barbed Wire.


References:
Bignell, Jonathan, 2004: An Introduction to Television Studies. London: Routledge

Ellis, John, 1992: Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video. London: Routledge

James, Clive, 1976: ‘Unintelligibühl’ (from the 1977 collection Visions Before Midnight, published by Cape)

Newman, Andrea, 2010: ‘”I never set out to shock”: Andrea Newman’. The Daily Telegraph (3 September 2010) [Online.] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7980317/I-never-set-out-to-shock-Andrea-Newman.html


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The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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