According to the lazy web search I’ve just conducted (although “conducted” seems far too grand a word for it), the term ‘suspension of disbelief’ was first used by Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The idea is that if you can imbue your work of fiction with a semblance of realism or particular air of conviction, then no matter how fantastic or bizarre things get, your audience will stick with you rather than thinking “A rare mineral called Unobtanium? That sound like bollocks to me. Hang on, I’ve just noticed that this film is rubbish”.
So as a public sector employee myself, I was intrigued to see how long I could last into this drama about a rogue councillor before my real world experience would cut the strings of my belief suspension. Perhaps unsurprisingly it wasn’t very long – the end of the first scene to be specific.
It wasn’t the sight of the huge grand council building (no property rationalisation here) or a sweaty politician (Christopher Eccleston), swigging from a concealed bottle of booze. It wasn’t the fact that people seemed to be working late, or the appearance of an actual security guard – it wasn’t even the purloining of sensitive documents for clandestine reasons.
No, it was the fact that when our protagonist went to copy said documents there was a freely available, fully working, easy to use photocopier available to him. Laughable.
Speaking of laughter, there wasn’t much to be had in Blackout. This is the tale of a boozed up local politician in a place that appears to be Gotham City who enjoys a bit of corrupt tender manipulation and unappealing, corridor based sex.
Following dishing out an alley based beating that he can’t remember, leaving the victim in a coma – followed by taking a bullet for a local gang member, Eccleston goes through some sort of rapid truth and reconciliation process. This somehow leads to Spud from Trainspotting turning up to get him to run for Mayor of Gotham.
Objectively, Blackout is rather slick – flashily photographed, great cast and artfully crinkled captions telling you where the action is taking place. Subjectively though I found it quite hard work, the plot could be quite intriguing and labyrinthine – if it wasn’t being hammered home by huge amounts of repetition and stark expository dialogue about exactly what is going on.
The first ten minutes or so of screen time were split between 38 seconds of plot, dialogue and action while the remaining 9 minutes 22 seconds were lingering close-ups of Eccleston chugging vodka out of a magic bottomless bottle.
This bludgeoning approach was kept up throughout, abandoning subtlety, intrigue and nuance for scenes like the one where our hero’s wife states her concern that he might be having alcoholic blackouts by reading him an article about alcoholic blackouts after we’ve just watched him wake up from an alcoholic blackout in a drama about an alcoholic called Blackout.
The whole thing was about as subtle as repeatedly pausing proceedings and bringing on a troupe of dancers to gyrate wildly along to a re-worked version of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face entitled Plot Message while the the following oscillates wildly on the screen in 200 point Impact Bold:
!!! HE IS AN ALCOHOLIC – IT’S A METAPHOR FOR CYNICISM !!!
I guess that there’s going to be a lot of plot rammed into these three episodes, but it is a shame that the makers don’t feel that they can trust us to pick up the plot and subtext without making everything painfully obvious.
With luck I might be wrong and the whole thing will take an unexpected turn into explosively gruesome sci-fi body horror in the next episode. I hope something like that happens and the plot really surprises me, or completely catches me out because otherwise Blackout is going to seem like a bit of a waste of everyone’s time and money – which of course could never be seen as a metaphor for the public sector, comrade.
To finish on a positive, the ending sort of reminded me of Brewster’s Millions, which I really wasn’t expecting. The idea of a local councillor running for Mayor and putting up huge posters saying “No More Bullshit” will probably appeal universally.