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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 12:32 GMT
Man and Boy is slight and trite
Ioan Gruff
The tale of male bonding is mundane
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By BBC News Online's William Gallagher
line

Man and Boy was the moving and hugely successful first novel of newspaper columnist Tony Parsons and it comes to television with an outstanding cast who simply cannot lift the show above the mundane.

It is not their fault.

The problem is that there is not enough for the cast to get to grips with and there is a false sense to it all as problems and obstacles only rarely feel important or big enough.

Part of this is that the story is deliberately a simple one of a man bonding with his son and at the same time bonding with his own father.

Ioan Gruffudd is the man, TV producer Harry Silver, his son is the fine but overrated newcomer Dominic Howell and Harry's father is the tremendous Jack Shepherd.

Exceptional

Around this trio we get the exceptional Natasha Little, so vividly good in Vanity Fair, plus Pauline Collins and Elizabeth Mitchell, last seen as Dr Legaspi in ER.

Harry (Ioan Gruffudd) faces up to fatherhood
The adaptation comes across as a man's fantasy
The story this bunch is meant to work with, in the way that, say, fairy tales do, is extremely simple, extraordinarily familiar and predictable.

But there is something in these stories that stays with us, that strikes at our core.

Perhaps this is why the book works but in the move to television the story loses the ability to delve deeply into its lead character's feelings and instead necessarily evens out the plot between the lead and the other characters.

That need not be a problem - Trainspotting famously wrecked the storylines of the novel it was based on yet brilliantly kept alive its themes - but Man and Boy's secondary characters are not good enough.

Everyone gets their fair share of screen time but none of them are characters in their own right, they exist solely to be problems or goals for Harry.

Anguished

Both Harry's betrayed wife Gina (Little) and later love Cyd (Mitchell) get into arguments with him in which they maintain their position only long enough to get a few close-ups of an anguished Ioan Grufford before they cave in without good reason.

Child actor Dominic Howell puts in a good performance
It is a story where little happens
Similarly, the very instant we meet Harry's father Paddy you can see his entire role immediately.

As very good as Jack Shepherd is, the role is so weak that you can start a stopwatch on when he will take Gina's side, when he will support Harry, when he will bond with Harry's son and even just about when he will die.

We are supposed to care deeply when he dies but it is all so obvious that we have had over an hour to get used to that idea before it happens.

Man and Boy is meant to be a look into a modern day man's soul but the way it treats its other characters, particularly women, means that it comes across as a man's fantasy.

It is fine to have a story in which little happens, it is even often admirable, but when you do not have the breadth of action, you have to have depth and Man and Boy just does not.

Man and Boy is on at 2100 GMT on BBC One on Saturday 30 March.

See also:

29 Jun 01 | Reviews
Parsons' Baby blues
22 Jan 00 | Wales
Ioan Gruffudd - the early years
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