The Song of Lunch

The Song of Lunch, BBC2’s filmed version of Christopher Reid’s long poem, was excellent. I had some misgivings because a poem’s own words should be able to take care of themselves without the help of images and it’s an abomination to put music behind a poem, but I found it effective and poignant. I didn’t know the poem and so did spend the first viewing trying to work out the form. I could hear rhymes in couplets but the line lengths seemed to be irregular.

The poem is narrated by Alan Rickman, who plays the fifty something man who meets his former lover for lunch after fifteen years separation. I love Alan Rickman and he is absolutely right as the embittered copy editor and minor poet with his face of an affronted falcon and the voice that delivers words with precision but can go gravelly and sneer ironically. Emma Thompson is the ex-lover and she has much less to say.  She looks exactly as an ageing failure would hate to see his ex-lover looking – contented and elegant, with news of her marriage to a successful novelist, the boys she has by him and their life together in Paris.  Her face and eyes get across her pity, her familiar exasperation and her sense that when she had dumped Alan Rickman and gone off with her present husband she had made exactly the right choice.

A poem dramatised like that can fall into an awkward literalism. Alan Rickman’s internal monologue deals with his ex-lover’s shapely wrist, and so the camera rests on the wrist. (Fortunately when the narrator of the poem describes what his pee looks like the camera just showed his back view in front of the porcelain.) However, this was well judged and conveyed what happens when we go through such events. Our senses are heightened and we remember the smallest detail, as when travelling in a foreign country, the foreign country being for the Rickman character the present, a hostile place, and at this lunch through his behaviour he banishes himself from the lovelier past.

It is a poem about ageing and disappointment and how we inflict wounds on ourselves as Alan Rickman  pours more wine and screws up yet another important happening in his life. The final word which clinches how time has moved on with death coming into sight, is a shock, like coming across your own tombstone.

I don’t know how many poems would lend themselves to a filmed treatment of this kind. Tony Harrison’s “V.” which Channel 4 filmed amidst a lot of controversy because of its four letter words was pretty good, though more of a montage of images against the words than a dramatisation. I have heard long dramatic poems like Tennyson‘s Maud done on radio successfully but you couldn‘t do The Wasteland for instance. There has to be some dramatic situation to give the scenes tension and suspense, and characters you can be interested in. I thought The Song of Lunch was inspired and hope the Beeb does something similar again.

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10 thoughts on “The Song of Lunch

    ian russell
    October 14, 2010 at 08:52

    I saw this and thought it was quite good but has Alan Rickman ever played a character whose face didn’t look like a slapped arse? I’m beginning to suspect he just plays himself. Emma Thompson was a good choice.

    October 14, 2010 at 09:02

    Have to admit I thought AA Gill (sorry Malty) was amusingly on the mark in the ST on Rickman: “He appeared to be having terrible constipation as he tried to squeeze out a curl of pathos or a pellet of bitter regret.”

    October 14, 2010 at 12:20

    Nice one for writing about this Rosie, as I saw this too, and thought that on balance it was more of a hit than a miss, the central conceit of old lovers meeting up and picking over the bones really hit home, and I could totally imagine myself being in the same situation and feeling the same feelings. Emma Thompson looked utterly classy and amazing, and as every one else has already mentioned, Alan Rickman annoyingly spent the whole time looking like he was smelling one of his own particularly virulent farts.

  4. Gaw
    October 14, 2010 at 13:32

    Chaps, your criticism is in vain for a great many ladies do love him (and I should know as I live with one of them).

    October 14, 2010 at 17:55

    Rickman’s voice is, like Burton’s, aural fluid gold, I’m enchanted by it so I suspect the ladies……and who can blame them, at his best as a heavy, shooting CEOs between the eyes. Emma Thompson such a sweetie, and beneficiary of nepotism.

    October 14, 2010 at 18:52

    Chaps, your criticism is in vain for a great many ladies do love him (and I should know as I live with one of them).

    Indeed, along with Bill Nighy he’s the pin-up for thinking women of mature years. I thought his air of slipping entitlement just right for this part.

    November 1, 2010 at 16:08

    Song for Lunch– I loved it. It was classy and brilliantly acted. Please BBC can we have more programmes like this?

    November 4, 2010 at 10:21

    Having read some of the comments on here, I just couldn’t help but respond. OK, I’ll admit it – I’m a major Alan Rickman fan (and not solely due, I may add, to the fact that I am indeed a ‘mature lady’ in my late forties, as I’d like to point out that there are 13 year olds out there besotted by him – especially since he now plays Severus Snape in the ‘Harry Potter’ movies. And he was, after all, once dubbed ‘The Thinking Woman’s Crumpet’.) Any way, I digress – I’m just annoyed that people like Ian Russell here question why the man never plays anything where his face doesn’t “look like a slapped arse”. Let me tell you, Mr. Russell, this very fine and quintessentially English Shakespearean actor has played more roles than you’re ever likely to have hot dinners in your entire life. He’s done everything from the sublime to the ridiculous – comedy to tragedy and everything in between. On stage, screen or studio he is known as a ‘scene-stealer’ (think Hans Gruber in ‘Die Hard’ or Sherrif of Nottingham in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, or indeed in his more recent role of Snape in ‘Harry Potter’.) The fact that his facial expression was such in the excellent ‘The Song of Lunch’ was because the role called for it! He was playing a washed-up, jaded, highly cynical (and rather seedy I may add) disillusioned middle-age man – how else was he supposed to play him? And I suggest you watch him (alongside the lovely Emma Thompson again of course) in her adaptation of ‘Sense & Sensibility’ where, as the courteous, gentlemanly Colonel Brandon, he couldn’t be further away from the clapped-out, slapped-arse-faced leering drunk portrayed in Song of Lunch – versatility thy name is Alan Rickman!

  9. Worm
    November 5, 2010 at 19:59

    Oh Lordy!

    November 6, 2010 at 23:10

    Worm – what kind of a comment is that? I am merely pointing out that not everything in life should be taken at face (or indeed slapped-arse face) value. There were three posts on here all basically saying what a rotten actor Alan Rickman is (mainly, I guess, on the basis of this one-off play/poem.) And whilst I do not expect you (or anybody else reading this for that matter) to become instant fans of Mr. Rickman’s due to my response, it would have been nice as a guest (I’ve only just come across this site) to have had a little respect for my own opinions. After all, you have been able to express yours freely. Ian Russell’s question was, “Has Alan Rickman ever played a character whose face didn’t look like a slapped arse?” I’ve simply explained that he is a very competant and capable actor (not necessarily to everyone’s taste, agreed, but versatile certainly; the last part of my comments being a play on words from a quote about the character he played in ‘Sense & Sensibility’.)

    I had assumed that this was a light-hearted and fun site where not-too-serious responses could be added; whilst mine was clearly defensive of an actor I admire, it was also very much tongue-in-cheek. I am not a professional writer and don’t often feel moved enough to comment on an unknown site in this way but I think I would have preferred it if you had responded with something a little less childish than ‘Oh Lordy!’ However, you don’t have to worry, I have not taken offence as such, nor, I trust, will there be any taken. But I really did want to point out that this is not the way to encourage new readership or contributors. Thank you for your understanding 🙂

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