For the longest time,Timothy Spall was just that bloke that turns up in everything. There are some actors who I fail to remember the names of regardless of just how many starring roles they may take. Spall senior always takes a good role whether he be playing Potter’s enemy, Peter Pettigrew, or being dastardly in a Disney among so many marvellous TV roles. I think he is fabulous. But it is not he which is causing my developing obsession, and I am thankful that his name has finally sunk in as it has allowed for my current TV stalking (with a little help from IMDB).
Rafe Spall is Tim’s son. I was introduced to him (not personally, unfortunately) a few weeks ago when BBC2 launched the startlingly superb serial,The Shadow Line (by Hugo Blick). The seven part drama concluding tonight (I believe you can catch up all episodes on iPlayer) has had me on the edge of my seat, literally at times. Starring the ever remarkable Christopher Eccleston, the programme was quietly sold to me on breakfast television, cast as a vague comparison to HBO’s gargantuan masterpiece, The Wire. Well, with a favoured actor describing his current project in a similar shadow to possibly my favourite drama of all time, how could I not watch?! I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it is like The Wire, but it is similar in the respect that it portrays a dark, complex narrative played out slowly, dripping with intrigue, treachery and death. It catches your breath in the very first episode, the very first moment almost, but you are not (at first) entirely sure why or how – not because the programme is poor, far from it, but because of the holding back. Too many cop based dramas depend upon the gore and the fast pace. Like its American comparison, The Shadow Line breaks these rules, delivers very little information willingly and certainly leaves you hanging for more. The strongest similarity comes in this addiction to know what comes next.
There are several story elements which are only just seeming to come together, but somehow all linked to the very first scene of the show; drug lords, good cops, bad cops, brutal killings, amnesia, adultery, kidnap, a whole load of money and flowers, and an incredibly dangerous man in a rather dubious hat. Morals have flown out of the window completely, I have no idea where the shades of grey turn into their lighter and, or more to the point, darker hues. I still cannot decide with whom my allegiance falls – I find myself sorrowful and sympathetic towards Christopher Eccleston’s character who is actually probably not a very nice man. It was only when Steve pointed this fact out to me last week that I realised just how easy it can be for someone to find themselves in a true moral dilemma, one which could literally mean life or death. Thankfully, not walking in the same world as Bede (Eccleston) I doubt I shall ever have to face such situations.
Rafe Spall plays Jay Wratten, the nephew of a rather powerful drug lord who was murdered by an unknown. The police have closed the case (perhaps to hide the real, warped truth?!) but Jay is not convinced. He is clearly still on the path of revenge. But Spall is no ordinary thug, not simply frightening but an unhinged level of terrifying. His general demeanour is one of a slightly demented child, big wide goofy grins set off with clownish hair, made silly almost by the trademark Spall ‘good looks’. The family trait for having slightly comedic faces helps to make Jay Wratten seem harmless, clueless, naive and warm. This is a complete mistake; his threats are very real and are delivered to his victims in an almost high pitched, baby voice, all the time with those grinning pearly whites and wide open eyes. Rafe’s acting is incredible and steals every single scene he enters, hands down. I find myself laughing out loud at his little speeches despite the fact that what he is actually saying is blood-curdlingly cold. I have never had such a TV experience, Wratten is a pure nut-job and my word, its believable.
This astonishing performance had me pondering – this couldn’t possibly be his first foray into film. And this is where I love him all the more. He is has been in not one, but two Simon Pegg films and I never realised! In Shaun of the Dead he played Shaun’s mannerless colleague prior to being zombie-fied. Hot Fuzz allows for a more prominent, hilarious role as one of the Andies in the little town’s CID. But comedy and mental deficiency are not the only strings to Spall’s bow – as I type now he is on my TV screen in ITV’s latest Miss Marple mystery, being all dapper and charming. IMDB research shows he’s played a whole wondrous range of characters from a slapstick counterpart in a Frankie Howerd bio-pic to classic TV theatre in A Room With A View. I don’t think you could get any wider a spectrum. I think it shows strength of character and talent that with such ease different styles and persona can be adopted – not all acting offspring have actual talent.
There are several more Spall productions listed on IMDB waiting for release, whether TV or cinematic I don’t actually know. What I do know is that I cannot wait to watch him again and that despite his slightly plasticine looks, I’m developing a little bit of a crush now!