Reviewed by: James Benefield

"Underlying everything is a sense of nihilism and borderline amorality in the face of destruction."

"I'm a writer; I put words into other people's mouths and at the moment they're all coming true!'"

Like its companion piece Cold Lazarus, Dennis Potter's four-part drama Karaoke is cold, paranoid and just a touch unpleasant. But by God, does it get underneath the skin.

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It was written as Potter was dying with pancreatic cancer; a disease shared by its central character, Albert Finney's avuncular playwright Daniel Feeld. In some ways this late-period Potter (which, incidentally, was broadcast posthumously) is like the fever dream borne from disease; throughout, both the audience Feeld will have difficulty distinguishing differing levels of fiction and reality. Feeld keeps catching glimpses of scenes from his work being played out in reality, all around him. They're all from Karaoke - his latest, and probably last, project which is being edited as part of post-production by its director Nick Balmer (a waspish, pompous Richard E Grant).

Feeld's disease winds a harrowing and difficult path for us, the audience, and Karaoke's producer, Anna Griffiths (a harried, but pitch-perfect, Anna Chancellor). From barium meals through to hospital visits, she spends all four of the story's parts diligently (but perhaps unrealistically) rebuilding bridges around, between and for a dying man. The journey is full of complication - sub-plots swirl and characters connive in and out of the film-within-a-film. Gluing it together is commentary on the power of art, the role of the playwright and the psychology of a disease's victim.

At times, it does get a bit much. Lines of dialogue and situations are repeated in the 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' parts of the story, and the plot almost drowns in paranoia. The whole piece is riddled with doubt regarding creative control, of the ownership of words and ideas. And underlying everything is a sense of nihilism and borderline amorality in the face of destruction. Dennis Potter famously wrote this and Cold Lazarus with a conceit in mind. If you could kill anyone in the world, who would it be? The result is more than the height of dourness.

But with a top drawer cast including Finney and Grant more than efficiently working their way through the murky psychological wreckage, Karaoke resonates. You won't forget it.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2010
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Karaoke packshot
A playwright is struck by cancer while working on the post-production of a TV drama.
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Director: Renny Rye

Writer: Dennis Potter

Starring: Albert Finney, Richard E Grant, Anna Chancellor, Roy Hudd, Hywel Bennett, Keeley Hawes, Saffron Burrows, Ian McDiarmid

Year: 1996

Runtime: 200 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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If you like this, try:

Cold Lazarus
The Singing Detective