Cold Lazarus

Cold Lazarus

***1/2

Reviewed by: James Benefield

Cold Lazarus ends writer Dennis Potter's career on an elegiac note. But, as ever for Potter, this elegy is played out in bitter minor chords.

This dichotomy is encased in a story of scientific ambition and moral ambiguity. Three hundred years after Potter's Karaoke, in a violent, grubby society, the cryogenically-frozen head of writer Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney) exists in a cavernous laboratory, with his thoughts projected on to a screen.

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One day Daniel regains a form of consciousness, and, wired up as he is, his brain starts projecting images. Workers at the laboratory – including a Professor (the wonderfully expressive Frances de la Tour) and flaxen-haired assistant Fyodor Glazunov (Ciaran Hinds) - are not sure whether these images are memories, dreams or nightmares. They vary from football matches through to childhood scenes. Intrigued, the scientists try to stimulate the brain to gain more information about this man and his society.

Those in and around the lab respond to this new activity in different ways. Media mogul David Siltz (a rather hammy Henry Goodman) plans to broadcast these images on TV. While at least one in the lab is seeking to undermine their activities.

But, whatever happens, from the get-go we're in Potter land. Weird sex bubbles under every surface; here, its main proponent is Diane Ladd's deliciously sleazy lab owner. She wears lavish wigs and drapes herself in speedo-wearing muscle men and wants to close the lab down. There's also the insidiously macabre; one of the recurring images is Albert Finney's blue, frozen, uplit head in a glass case. And, like the decapitated head, these characters never really smile. They scowl, leer, brood and sneer their way through the philosophically-infused dialogue and almost outrageous use of exposition.

But behind this dour drapery is a deeply sad tale. From the second episode we learn that Daniel (or, at least, what is left of him) wants to die. He doesn't want to be prodded around or engage in some weird continued legacy. His last will and testament, declaring he would like to be revived if the technology became available, was a mistake. Daniel now believes that death is really the end. Coupled with its sort-of prequel Karaoke, it's a stunning coup de grace in character development.

With its now rather dated Brazil-like depiction of a crumbling society choking with terrorism, this Potter may not seem the most appealing at first glance. Like its intellectual burblings, it is equal parts prescient and hysterical. And his love-him-or-loathe-him idiosyncrasies are all present and correct, too, (attracting both the right and wrong kind of larger-than-life performances). But it's intelligent and provocative stuff that hits all kinds of targets.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2010
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In 2368, scientists tap into the memory of a man who died in the 1990s.
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