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Any Human Heart – The Complete Series (Review)

Any Human Heart

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SPECIAL FEATURES: In Oxford with Sam Caflin; Matthew MacFayden on location in Spain; Interview with Jim Broadbent; Kim Cattrall on ‘Gloria’; Gillian Anderson and Tom Hollander on playing the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; Hayley Atwell on ‘Freya’; On the set of Any Human Heart; From paper to screen – William Boyd discusses Any Human Heart.

CHANNEL 4’s ambitious four-part adaptation of William Boyd’s acclaimed best-seller proved to be one of the small screen events of the year, if only to see a top-notch cast performing at the peak of their powers.

A sweeping historical epic that unfolded from the point of view of one man – the writer Logan Mountstuart – it was also an intimate character study of a person who viewed life in terms of luck; and whose own journey through it came with large helpings of both good and bad.

Adapted by Boyd himself, Any Human Heart got better as it went along, culminating in a poignant final chapter that saw Jim Broadbent take centre stage as the older, wiser Logan.

But the ensuing episodes had their moments, even though the series didn’t always carry the emotional clout that certain scenes perhaps merited.

Perhaps this was due to the glib observations of its central character, or the episodic nature of the story which ambitiously tried to combine a deeply personal story with key moments in history (from Edward & Mrs Simpson, through the Second World War and, eventually, the Baader Meinhof uprising) with varying degrees of success.

But while certainly fun in literary form, having Mountstuart directly make contact with several of history’s key players sometimes felt distracting, when a little more time devoted to its central relationships would have gone a long way.

That said, the four-parter was never less than absorbing and – as previously mentioned – a wonderful showcase for acting talent.

In their various portrayals of three stages of Mountstuart (young, middle-aged and elderly), Sam Claflin, Matthew Macfadyen and the aforementioned Broadbent performed admirably and often impeccably.

Claflin laid down markers for his future, even though his section of the story offered the least likeable version of Mountstuart, while Macfadyen brought charisma, charm, emotional complexity and plenty of fallibility to his role.

But Broadbent, to my mind, stole the show as the ageing Mountstuart, whose observations, regrets and continued adventures were frequently a joy to behold. This was another performance to savour from one of Britain’s most treasured actors, and one which continued to underline his diversity.

Support ranged from the high profile to the career making… but almost always brought something to the various points in Mountstuart’s complex life.

Of note, Tom Hollander and Gillian Anderson excelled as the volatile Edward and Mrs Simpson, Kim Cattrall was highly affecting as one of Logan’s late loves Gloria and Tobias Menzies was good value as Ian Fleming.

But it was the beautiful Hayley Atwell who really stole the show – and Logan’s heart – from the supporting cast as Freya… combining wit, allure, feistiness and sensitivity as the most significant person in his life.

Of note, too, were Ed Stoppard and Samuel West as Logan’s lifelong best friends, Ben and Peter.

In terms of production, meanwhile, Any Human Heart boasted some suitably lavish trappings, taking viewers from 1920s Paris to ‘50s New York and ‘80s London via war-torn Switzerland, the Spanish Civil War and the Caribbean.

It often looked beautiful, even though it sometimes felt over-directed…. with several moments of extreme slow motion, odd camera angles and sometimes blurred supporting players distracting and pulling you away from the moment.

But then, like its central protagonist, Any Human Heart was easier to admire than it was to completely like… and proved to be a story that really came into its own the longer it went on.

Certificate: 15
No of discs/episodes: 2/2
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 27, 2010