Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants a job digging holes in the sand—and blowing things up.
"I dug holes in the sand…sometimes in the mud—and I blew things up."
That's Ian Deasey's description of his skills upon returning to the British workforce after serving in World War II. He's leaving out a goofy singing act he performed with fellow soldier Dick Dobson. Deasey gets back to work, but he's longing to try the stage. That's the setup for Demob, a six-part miniseries set in the days just after World War II.
Facts of the Case
When he demobs, Ian Deasey (Griff Rhys-Jones, Alias Smith and Jones) goes straight to his pre-fab home, his wife (Amanda Redman, New Tricks), and his son. His friend Dick Dobson (Martin Clunes, Doc Martin) goes to the pub, and gets a room through deception at an officers' club. Dobson meets up with a shady character who offers him a job as manager of the Blue Parrot nightclub, and Dobson offers Deasey the chance to resume their act. Deasey also gets to meet Hedda Kennedy (Samantha Janus, Pie in the Sky), who does some (sort of, but not too) naughty dancing on stage. Soon, all three find themselves at loose ends and looking for theatrical work.
Martin Clunes has a lot of fun playing Dick Dobson, a devious character who lies about his demob date to avoid going home right away, sneaks out of the officers' club without paying, and takes a job delivering packages from a shady type without worrying about their contents. At the same time, Dobson gets a grounding in reality from his friendships with Ian Deasey and Hedda Kennedy. Clunes gets a strong dramatic turn near the end after playing the carefree rogue, but Griff Rhys-Jones, who I've only seen before in his sketch comedy show, brings a dramatic undertone to his role as Ian Deasey throughout Demob. As the struggling comedian and singer, Rhys-Jones comes off as courageous and persistent, even as he's aware that audiences aren't with him. Trouble with his wife and the possibility of romance with Hedda give Deasey more choices and conflicts, giving Rhys-Jones the chance to show himself as a solid dramatic actor.
Samantha Janus' Hedda becomes a faithful friend to Deasey and Dobson, at times joining their act to bail them out. She's fond of both men, but wants to remain faithful to a husband she's sure will return. Janus brings the expected mix of worldly wisdom and sweetness to the role. Amanda Redman's Janet Deasey starts out as a plot complication, taking a dim view of her husband's stage ambitions, but gradually shows depth as Janet considers an affair and deals with a rough patch in Ian's career.
Beyond the actual plot, Demob takes viewers on a tour of the low-end British stage, from the seedy Blue Parrot and a Liverpool music hall, to dinner gigs and a BBC children's show. These are lovingly rendered, as you'd expect.
The stage portions of Demob are often colorful, and those colors come across well. The introduction, featuring a fan dancer's fans, especially shows off the bold palette. The period music that accents Demob also comes over well. There was a freeze-up at one point on my DVD, though.
There aren't any extras. A text on popular comedy teams that started up in the era or the British stage scene might have been helpful.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While her naughty stage act doesn't actually show much skin, viewers get to see Samantha Janus' breasts in a bedroom scene. There's nudity here and there, and a lot of sexual situations. It's part of the plot, not just titillation.
Demob was surprising in tone, with more drama in the comedy-drama hybrid than expected, but with the cast relishing the extra work, it pays off. It's adult drama, to be sure, but nostalgically minded viewers will enjoy it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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