Starring: David Morrissey, Saira Todd, Phil Daniels
Scripted by Toby Marchant, Holding On was one of a number of high-profile, state of the nation dramas made by the BBC towards the close of the 1990s in a mood of pre-millennial summing up. More specifically, this is a state of London tale, with a sharp satirical tone which owes much to the novels of Martin Amis.
The catalysing event at the heart of this 8-part series is the senseless murder of a young woman by a homeless man, the repercussions of which spread out to touch various characters in sometimes circuitous and indirect ways. Saira Todd plays the murdered girl’s sister, a hardboiled, seen-it-all city-dweller who is forced to re-evaluate her cynical attitudes, while another key strand involves a crusading Inland Revenue employee (a big, showy turn from David Morrissey) investigating corporate fraud but suddenly hit by debilitating panic attacks just as he’s about to haul in a big fish (David Calder). And acting as a kind of chorus to the action is Phil Daniels as a dyspeptic restaurant critic slowly being poisoned by all the rich food he’s forced to eat and pouring out his displeasure in torrents of direct-to-camera bile.
As is perhaps inevitable with a show that’s so sprawling and ambitious, not all of the strands grab the attention with equal intensity, but the linkages between them are often subtle and chosen with a keen eye for dramatic irony, as when a ruthless PR maven (Lesley Manville) is the victim of a brutal purse-snatching after helping a rich businessman defraud the taxman of revenue that might go towards paying for more police on the streets. Likewise, the acting from the impressive big-name cast is somewhat uneven, with Todd and Manville both outstanding but Morrissey and Daniels pushing the boundaries of what works on the small screen. Occasionally, too, the writing descends into speechifying as one character or another becomes a mouthpiece for the author’s social concerns. But whatever the series’ occasional rough edges, the picture it paints – of widening social divides, of people at the sharp end turning on each other in acts of misdirected violence while the rich glide smoothly above the fray on magic carpets of cash – seems only to have become more acutely relevant with the passing of time. Getting on for 20 years old, Holding On is even closer to the truth now than when it was made. 7/10