Cast: Amita Dihri, Jack Davenport, Jason Hughes, Andrew Lincoln, Daniela Nardini, Ramon Tikaram
It has now been twenty years since we were first introduced to the five twentysomething London lawyers who made up BBC drama This Life.
Who could forget them? Anna (Nardini): perhaps the most memorable character, sharp tongued feisty, yet ultimately vulnerable and fixated on university end of term one night stand Miles (Davenport), posh, misogynist, homophobic and snobbish, but one senses, as human as anyone else underneath. Then there’s Egg (Lincoln), perhaps the nicest character in the house although clearly not cut out for a career in law as his sexy, ambitious girlfriend Milly (Dhiri) seems to be. Last but not least comes gay Welshman Warren (Hughes), inclined towards regular visits to a therapist and occasional moments of madness. He is later joined by troubled bisexual Ferdy (Tikaram).
The show did not really catch fire during its first eleven part run in 1996, perhaps because many episodes were written by Amy Jenkins, who despite creating the series was never one of its strongest writers. But during its longer 20 episode second series in 1997, something magical started to happen. This Life grew to be cult viewing: totally unmissable and was much mourned after its spectacular Series 2 finale.
Has This Life dated? Yes, of course. It would be odd if it hadn’t. Everyone seems to smoke more than they do today (at least on TV) and the house enjoys a constant backdrop of music by the likes of Radiohead, Suede and the Sneaker Pimps. The internet is spoken of only as a distant futuristic thing as proven when Miles becomes one of the last people on Earth to post a dating ad in an actual magazine.
On the other hand, the “shaky” naturalistic camerawork much commented on at the time is barely noticeable now (though the camerawork remains interesting and occasionally prone to close ups). A young Martin Freeman crops up in one episode. But the show was ahead of it’s time in its attitude to gays and drug use and one suspects it has dated far less than a 1976 drama series would have had that been screened twenty years later in 1996.
Twenty years on (and ten years after the slightly underwhelming 2006 This Life +10 one off also included in this DVD set). the saddest thing is that while the principal male cast are all still a regular presence on our screens – particularly Andrew Lincoln who now stars in hit US drama the Walking Dead – Nardini and Dhiri have never become stars. Still, the smaller female parts such as Natasha Little (who plays the bane of Milly’s office existence, Rachel) and Luisa Bradhaw-White (sassy office temp Kira, but now an EastEnders regular) have all done well.
And the really good news is that This Life is either a) as good as you remember or b) very watchable if you’ve never seen it before.
As Warren would say: “Hysterical.”