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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
White Teeth sparkles on TV
White Teeth
Race plays its part but does not define the story

As hyped as the Zadie Smith debut novel from which it is adapted, White Teeth lives up to everything that it should be and more.

White Teeth is a comic-by-turns story of two families, three cultures and the changing face of modern Britain.

It begins as the story of two wartime friends, Archie from England (Phil Davis) and Samad (Om Puri) from Bengal, who renew their friendship in the north London of the early 1970s, offered a second chance at their lives.

Archie is a man who, as Samad has it, "picked up the wrong life in the cloakroom of existence". The series begins when he is saved from suicide by a Halal butcher in the dying minutes of New Year's Eve 1974.

Archie
Archie: Leads first episode with Samad
Then, for the first time in his miserable life, Archie falls on his feet when he meets, woos and marries the impossibly beautiful and rebellious Clara (Naomie Harris) - Jamaican-born, British-raised and determined to break free of the shackles of her Jehovah Witness mother.

Samad has an arranged marriage to Alsana (Archie Panjabi), a woman much his junior, twice as tempestuous and as half as tolerant again of her new husband's failings.

He claims to be a devout Muslim but has more than his fair share of lapses from faith. Overqualified and deeply frustrated in the "mother country" he fought for, he resigns himself to becoming the oldest waiter in Willesden.

The first episode of the four-part adaption sees the men finding optimism in a life that has largely flashed past their eyes without them in it.

In the three episodes to come, telescoping through the decades with the help of the era's music, the two families will have children. It is this new generation's comic and dysfunctional response to adulthood, their parents and identity that drives White Teeth.

Zadie Smith's debut was hailed as a modern classic because she wrote of intensely real people: part comic, part tragic, rarely heroic and entirely part of our own family experience.

Zeitgeist

Race plays its part but does not define the story. Similarly, White Teeth is not an overly obvious "celebration" of multicultural Britain: The fact that a washed-up Englishman finds renewal in the new Britain unfolding around him is not laboured.

In keeping these issues light, the adaption keeps faith with Zadie Smith who deftly moves through the zeitgeist of the last quarter of the 20th Century, be it the fag-end of hippydom or rebellious offspring.

Channel Four's adaption of White Teeth lives up to the book but arguably betters it.

The screenplay captures the book's grand scale and intimacy. But it also keeps up the pace where the novel began to flag.

Translated to the small screen it is fresh, energetic and effortlessly played out by a great cast.

The question is, why don't we have more of the same?

White Teeth is on Channel Four, Tuesdays at 2200 BST.

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06 Jun 01 | Entertainment
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