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TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan

1 Feb


Image: BBC

“I’ve never even been on an aeroplane before…”

“It’s like a 29 bus with wings! C’mon now!”

This is our introduction to photographer David Bailey and his lover and favourite model Jean Shrimpton in BBC4’s standalone drama We’ll Take Manhattan, and it speaks volumes about what is to come. We have already been informed that in 1962 “no-one expected to be famous who was not born rich and titled. And there was no such thing as youth culture. But then David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton went to New York”, setting the scene for a tale of social divides being overcome. But it is not only a tale with a moral (and one that the present day fashion industry could learn from, at that), but one beautifully told and shot, with the hazy lighting which is part and parcel of any programme set more than ten years in the past, and the acting interspersed with photographic stills, tying in with the theme.

Bailey, played by Aneurin Barnard, switches from charming and cocky to sullen and brooding in an instant, frequently clashing heads with Lady Clare Rendlesham (Helen McCrory) over every aspect of their New York Vogue shoot. She wants traditional photographs in the style of Cecil Beaton set against New York’s famously stunning backdrops, while he wants to shoot his model peering through fences and leaning against signposts. Jean Shrimpton (Karen Gillan, of Doctor Who fame) is delightfully awkward, never quite letting go of her country girl roots despite Bailey taking her under his wing (and indeed into his bed). The New York scenes (which make up the bulk of the ninety minute long drama) are also enhanced by the acting of Joseph May as Larry Schwartz, eager to help in any way possible but caught in the crossfire between Bailey and Lady Rendlesham. There are also stunning performances by some of the more minor actors, such as Robert Glenister as Jean’s overbearing father, and Anna Chancellor as Lucie Clayton, her agent.

Although it resolves the climactic tension a little too easily for my mind, perhaps struggling to fit within its ninety minute time frame, We’ll Take Manhattan was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable watch. And for those who are interested in youth culture, modelling, and fashion, this is undeniably a must-see.

We’ll Take Manhattan is available on BBC iPlayer until Thursday 2nd February.