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We’ll Take Manhattan

The BBC has this odd habit of creating excellent drama and then hiding it somewhere in the schedule1 where it will then sink into obscurity and DVD sales. We’ll Take Manhattan was tucked away on BBC 42, and is a bit of a rare gem, being a biographical drama that isn’t afraid to be bold and interesting.

We’ll Take Manhattan follows the early years of now world-famous photographer David Bailey, and goes a long to explaining why he’s such a big deal. It also follows the early years of Bailey’s muse, model and lover Jean Shrimpton, played by Doctor Who companion, Karen Gillan. It’s a fast paced little drama, with absolutely thrilling performances from both Gillan and Aneurin Barnard (who plays Bailey).

Other people to have taken Manhattan include The Muppets

The drama itself is pretty straight forward; Bright young things take on the establishment and win by being energetic, keen and brilliant, though not without some level of personal cost. This may seem like a cliché to us, but the thrust of the drama is that back in 1962, things were less dynamic. Bailey is not portrayed as a rock star, but as a young man desperate to make his mark on the world. Barnard steals the show entirely, and though Gillan is very good (and shows the audience that she is much more than a one-dimensional character), it is Barnard’s depiction of a man who is so hungry to prove himself to the world that he is willing to destroy everything, including himself, to get there.

Another thing that impressed me is how terribly appropiate it all looks; everything but the lead characters look old-fashioned and stiff. (Not just Sixties, but established and ancient). The sets tell the story as much as the actors, the only things with life in them are the shots created by Bailey. The producers have clearly taken great joy in framing as many shots as possible in such a way that they resemble the great photographer’s back catalogue3.

We’ll Take Manhattan can be found on iPlayer, and is worth your time if you have an interest in the Sixties, the history of modern photography or Karen Gillan’s legs.


1: Case in point; Christopher and His Kind, a rather brilliant drama about Christopher Isherwood’s experiences in Germany during the eve of World War 2. Isherwood’s story inspired the musical Cabaret, so you’d have thought it was must see television, especially as it featured a rather striking performance from Matt Smith. I find it odd that the BBC commissioned two Doctor Who actors to do adult dramas, both of which are rather good, and then hide them.
2: The channel for interesting documentaries and semi-factual dramas, formally known as BBC 2.
3: Including the shot with the chain link fence and the teddy bear. You’ll know it when you see it. Though the bear gets abandoned. Karen Gillan’s character keep doing that.

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Categories: Reviews, TV
  1. January 31, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for this. I thought the programme was fantastic; it was lovely to see Karen Gillan in something other than Doctor Who and the whole thing was very enjoyable.

    It’s true about the BBC hiding them away, though! I wanted to watch Christopher and His Kind, but I seem to have missed it – there was so little about it around, and I was busy so didn’t get a minute to dig around for it. A shame, really.

    Great programme, great review.

  2. January 31, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I just watched this today, I enjoyed it, but more for the photography aspect than the fact it had Karen Gillan in. I thought Barnard was excellent.

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