What I'm Watching: Cilla
Wanting to join in the Period Drama Challenge at Old Fashioned Charm, I got to thinking about all the costume dramas and period films I've watched recently. ITV's Cilla, a three-part, sixties-set drama telling the story of Liverpool legend Cilla Black, was one of my favourites of the past year. I've watched it three times now - once when it first came out, again when Cilla died (how many celebrity deaths have we had lately, seriously?) and then the other night - just because. Cilla Black was best known for her association with the Beatles (she was signed to the same manager, Brian Epstein) and her career as a TV presenter, eventually becoming regarded as a bit of a national treasure. Cilla focuses on her early career as a singer and the romance with the love of her, life Bobby Willis.
Starring Sheridan Smith and Aneurin Barnard, Cilla is funny, lively and sometimes bleak (the sub-plot following Brian Epstein is pretty dark) with great music and costumes, but what makes it for me is the love story at it's heart. I was already a bit in love with Aneurin Barnard after his turn as Richard III in The White Queen (no way Richard killed the princes, I call Tudor propaganda) but Bobby is so lovely that you can't help but fall for him - despite that shocking attempt at a scouse (Liverpudlian) accent. The rest of the cast are great too - Ed Stoppard gives us a heart-rending portrayal of manager, Brian Epstein and you might recognise the nice music producer, George Martin, as Mr. Darcy from Lost in Austen. Sheridan Smith is brilliant in everything she's in, and does a great job with the character of Cilla who, in the hands of another actress, would be impossible to like at times (she's so mean to Bobby.) Her voice is also fantastic. Smith did all her own singing and if you ask me, she's better than the real thing.
I love the atmosphere of this production: sixties Liverpool is created in a way that's totally believable (other than some of the accents) and the scenes at the Cavern club really make you want to be a part of it all. I've never been to the Cavern, but I'm definitely going to make sure I have a night there at some point! I wasn't so sure about the portrayal of the Beatles - I don't think the actors pulled it off quite like Sheridan Smith did. To be fair though, the Beatles are much more iconic, so it's easier to find fault in the portrayal.
Out of the three episodes, the second was my favourite and the third was my least - mostly because Brian's story is so sad. The second episode has a couple of uncomfortable scenes involving his storyline (why does he go for the one guy he's told is no good??) but mainly it's cheerful and we get lots of recording studio stuff and the show-stopper number, Anyone Who had a Heart.
As we progress throughout the sixties, Cilla's clothes and hairstyles also change - I like the early sixties stuff, especially the coats and little dresses. Some of the colour combinations are horrible but they still sort of work. As Cilla gets more successful later on, her outfits become more fashionable and change with the times.
Overall, Cilla was a great bit of TV - well acted, with good music, strong central characters and relationships that you root for - although there were a couple of things that bothered me. For one thing, the overuse of the phrase 'la'. Yes, people do say 'alright la', in this neck of the woods. But I seriously doubt it was used that much in the 60's - it's not even that common now. And I'm pretty sure you wouldn't say 'I'm so sorry la' to tell someone their dad just died.
The other issue, without meaning to speak ill of the dead, is that I don't think the real Cilla was all sweetness and light. Sheridan Smith helps a lot in making her more sympathetic, but they don't sugar coat the more brattish parts of her personality, meaning that some aspects of the story aren't as satisfying as they should be. The writer is definitely on Bobby's side in everything, which I thought was about right, apart from when it came to their sexual relationship. If she didn't want to sleep with him that was fair enough, I thought - especially since contraception in the sixties wasn't as readily available as it is now. If she'd gotten pregnant there would have been consequences, not least for her career.
ITV was constantly looking for ways to amp up the drama, in what was essentially a straightforward Cinderella story (they also made a bigger deal out of the Protestant/Catholic thing than I expected) but in the end, Cilla had more warmth than grit, the characters were likeable and the series was an enjoyable watch.
*Warnings and stuff: If you don't count 'bloody hell' there's only one instance of swearing I think (in episode one) no nudity, but there are sexual references and some dark themes (implied sexual violence.) It was shown post-watershed, so not a family drama. Also, if you're not great at understanding strong, regional British accents, you might need subtitles for this one. The cast might not have always got the accents spot on, but they really went for it!