Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Declan O’Dwyer
Starring Russell Tovey as George, Guy Flannagan as Mitchell, Andrea Riseborough as Annie and Colin Salmon as Herrick
It is the dead of night, deep in a forest a young man strips naked and sits on a log, shivering. Meanwhile, in a flat somewhere in a city, a young couple are getting intimate, the Byronic young man is being dark and mysterious, and is told that there a dangerous edge to him by his pretty young girlfriend. In the forest, the young man is racked with pain, in the flat the intimacy becomes more physical. As Snow Patrol’s song Chasing Cars reaches its crescendo we are shown the full Moon and the truth is revealed, the young man has transformed into a wolf and the boyfriend is a vampire who has bitten into his girlfriends jugular and drunk her blood.
The following morning, George, the werewolf is picked up by Mitchell the vampire, they head back to the hostel they are living in and then go to the hospital they work at as porters. During a break, they discuss the nature of their lives. Wandering from hostel to hostel, job to job. Julia, the woman George was engaged to when he was first cursed has been admitted to the hospital after an epileptic fit. Mitchell tells George that they need to settle down in one place, that the true curse is not what happens once a month but being forced to live a strange unnatural life, and that they should fight back, be normal, by being human.
The House that they eventually rent is a bit gloomy and has a reputation. Soon George and Mitchell notice that things are moving of their own accord. A chicken is pinned to the front of a fridge and the words go away are written above it. Mitchell discovers the cause of the ghostly goings on is Annie, a previous occupant who died in an accident and is unable to leave the house. Annie is unusual in that she can interact with solid objects. She makes ups of tea that she can never drink, just for the routine, Mitchell hopes that once the threesome is well established, she will do all the cooking and cleaning as well.
However, things do not run smoothly. First of all, George catches Julia’s fiancée assaulting her after she has been to a follow-up appointment at the hospital. Because it is the night before Full Moon, George is suffused with vulpine strength and scares several shades out of the soon to be ex-fiancée. Julia is both terrified and excited by this and the following night seeks some answers. Unfortunately, she does this by locking herself with George in a secure isolation ward deep in the basement of the hospital. This is where George goes when he is hungry like the wolf, as it is soundproofed and the door handle on the inside is rusted off, so he cannot get out. And in this case neither can Julia, and in twenty minutes he will have no control over his actions. To make matters worse, Mitchell has gone to a regular meeting of the Bristol Vampire community and only Annie, the aggrophobic poltergeist can help.
Mitchell has problems of his own. For centuries the vampires of Britain have lead quiet lives in the shadows and on the edges of society. However, Herreck a charismatic vampire is whipping up support for his Vampire Supremacist movement at the meeting. Mitchell can only see this as a bad thing for his fellow vampires.
Annie manages to pull herself together for long enough drag Julia from the isolation ward, and sit with her until the sunrise, when George is restored to his human form. Sadly, proof that vampires, werewolves and ghosts really exist is to much for Julia, and she says her final goodbye to George.
In the pub the following evening, Annie, Mitchell and George are discussing Harry Potter and enjoying being able to spend a night being normal people in a pleasant social environment. In fact, Mitchell it is vital, as he sees the result of when he loses control that night, when he is visited outside the pub by Lauren, the innocent young nurse he killed when he lost control at the beginning of the play. Under the tutelage of Herrick, she is now a monstrous psychopath with no trace of the person she once was.
I do miss the old Play for Today that ran on BBC One for fourteen highly successful years between 1970 and 1984. It was series of one off television dramas that was as varied as a box of chocolates. Being Human was co-produced by Touchpaper Television and the BBC Wales Drama Department for BBC THREE as part of a series of one off dramas that could be made into full series, which is the closest we are ever going to get to a modern Play for Today. In a way, I am glad it was just a one-off because I honestly don’t think that the story had any further to run. The whole Vampire Supremacist sub-plot seemed tacked on and did not quite work. The three protagonists, despite their individual tragedies are happy in their new life, and can successful pass as being human. If this was American Network television, the three characters would end up solving a mystery a week and possibly form a detective agency, Fortunately this is the BBC so this novel concept has probably had its one and only outing. (It is interesting to note that the dire Phoo Action, that failed on almost every single level and is not fit to call itself a BBC production has been picked up as a series. God knows why?)
I am not at all surprised that this was a co-production with BBC Wales. Julie Gardner the current head of Drama at BBC Wales has admitted to being a huge fan of the work of Joss Whedon. This is the closest she is ever going to get to making a Whedonesque ironic post-modern horror story.
It is therefore not at all surprising that Mitchell is an angst driven Byronic character who seems to be atoning for sins past and present, in the style of Angel the Vampire with a soul from Whedon’s canon. However, the vampires in Being Human are closer to the undead that Bram Stoker created than the rule ridden creation of the Whedon canon. Guy Flannagan has made Mitchell a very cool character, witty and sarcastic and the sort of person you might want as a friend. The problem is I cannot for the life of me identify either the “age” or the “danger” that is supposed to be connected to the guy.
Russell Tovey gives a workman like performance as George the werewolf, who loves the attempt at normality but who is so frightened that it will be ripped away from him. He seems to be popping up in a lot of BBC Wales productions recently, which is not a bad thing, as he is a very good actor. The fear and horror when Julia was locked in the isolation ward with him was so real I could almost taste it. I also enjoyed his resentment of the presence of Annie in the house, another woman that he likes but could never have, mainly because she is dead.
Yes I know that until she conquers her aggrophobia, Annie is supposed to be a bit annoying, but why did they have to saddle here with that accent, the high pitched whining Mancunian drawl that seems to be reserved uniquely for the extremely thick women in Corronation Street. Also I would not class her as a simple ghost. The fact that she can interact with solid objects and was actively trying to scare George and Mitchell away means that she is a Poltergeist, which is a different class of supernatural creature all together.
Toby Whithouse’s script was great fun, and simply races through its hour long time slot. Whithouse wrote School Reunion one of my favourite modern Doctor Who stories, and I really hope that that was not his last script for that series. No doubt if Being Human does become a sries on BBC THREE, he will be able to flesh out the situation, making Herrick and his Vampire Supremacists more of a threat than they currently appear to be. I really liked the idea that vampires become undertakers, and use that business as a profitable way of hiding their own nocturnal activities.
- If this was a BBC Wales co-production, why was it set in Bristol? I know Torchwood owns Cardiff, but couldn’t Being Human have had Swansea?
- Does BBC Wales Drama have to be so bleak about the afterlife. In Torchwood and Doctor Who after death there is nothing but eternal darkness and isolation. In Being Human, there is a corridor where men with ropes and chains are waiting for you. Death is grim enough without having all the candy-cotton pink illusions stripped away by popular fiction.
Over all a thorougholy enjoyable piece of television drama.
3.5 out of 5