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Out To Lunch

‘O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been/ Cooled for a long age in the deep-delved earth…’

Keats’ immortal lines hung heavy over the BBC’s recent dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s narrative poem ‘The Song of Lunch’. Starring the greying and grizzled Alan Rickman against the gold-flecked Emma Thompson, the film depicted an uneasy lunch between to old lovers. Despite the intervening years, husband and book of vengeful autobiographical poetry, both players come to this lunch, it seems, with hopes for reconciliation and affection, or at least a decent dinner. Sadly, neither is to be the case.

Rickman is made painful by a drowsy numbness, which stems from Chianti-sodden melancholy as much as heartache, while Thompson remains an immortal Bird, untouched by age, domesticity or, in particular, booze. Her knickers, we quickly realise, are going to remain steadfastly on. Realising this too, Rickman fixes her with a leaden-eyed despair that speaks volumes of the weariness, the fever and the fret that so often hits older middle-aged men when faced with nothing but two bottles of wine and some lean beef for their midday indulgence.

Narrative poems, it is fair to say, aren’t known for their naturalistic approach to dialogue and there were times when the interraction between the two actors seemed even more strained than perhaps intended, thanks to the segmented verse. However, as a depiction of one man’s hopeless attempt at savoir faire, as he drinks and leaves the world unseen, fades away in to the forest dim, dissolves and quite forgets that he has left his date alone at a table while he is having a mournful drunken nap on the rooftop of a Soho restaurant, it was fine. He may have had the viewless wings of Poesy on his side, but sexual frustration and the beaded bubbles winking at the brim perplexes Rickman’s dull brain and retards him to the point of lurching shame. It’s a conspiracy of loneliness and wine on an empty stomach, which, as we all know, is no match for man or nightingale.

Cynics among you will point out that most women my age (and several decades older) would happily watch a drunk Alan Rickman read from the Argos catalogue while eating cheesy Wotsits, and you’d be right. You’re looking at the woman who nearly applied for a waitressing job in a country pub an hour and a half away from home on the mere rumour that Rickman occasionally went there for Sunday lunch.

Be that as it may, ‘The Song of Lunch’ was nonetheless a surprising piece of poetry on the telly box. It’s just a shame that, once they’d decided to mark National Poetry Day with a dramatisation, they didn’t do the right thing and show Fiona Shaw’s brilliant performance of T. S Eliot’s The Wasteland, which I saw earlier this year at Wilton’s Music Hall.

Click HERE to watch The Song of Lunch on iPlayer.

Nell Frizzell

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