When I heard that BBC were adapting the love affair between genius photographer David Bailey and infamous 60s supermodel Jean Shrimpton into a drama, I was excited. When I heard it was going to be a BBC Four production, renowned for its superb musical documentaries and cultural programmes, I was elated. We’ll Take Manhattan, however, fails to live up to these expectations.
Granted, my hopes were a little high after reading a lot about both of these fashion icons and studying photographs and documentaries of their respective careers, but the team behind this TV film have really let themselves down.
First of all, the casting is all over the place, and incredibly distracting. Aneurin Barnard as David Bailey seems far too young and contemporary to play such an icon, and his acting is totally over the top, with his accent verging on Dick van Dyke levels of cringe. Barnard is almost totally unbelievable as Bailey, who should be cool and edgy yet is portrayed as an amateur with a weirdly high pitched, whiny, monotone voice (something I thought impossible).
I was intrigued by the choice of Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan as Shrimpton, having loved her alongside Matt Smith in the BBC 1 phenomenon, but again, she does not suit the role. I found that she looks much too old to play the teen-aged model, which is highly off-putting, given that as an actress she has very few lines and her role comprised largely of close-ups of her pouting. This is a prime example of the script, which is barely-there, and not in a Drive way – it is just lacking.
What director John McKay has disappointed on most though, is the cinematography. From a drama about high fashion (Vogue) and photography, one would expect stunningly framed shots, striking lighting, and original editing: what we receive is a largely run-of-the-mill collection of shots, pieced together with little style or artistry. McKay incorporates a lot of stagey zoom shots and Bourne-style ‘realistic’ shaky camera work, which could have worked in an intelligent contrasting sort of way to the high-style Vogue concept of the story, yet fails to provide this originality, making the film look cheap.
The sets tell the same story, with some scenes looking as if they were actually stolen from Doctor Who with poor CGI backgrounds. The editing is very disjointed, and opportunities are constantly missed: in many scenes, live-action becomes stills as the camera turns the scene into ‘Bailey’s’ photograph, yet these photographs are poorly framed and bear little resemblance to the original Bailey shots, which really should have been reconstructed much more faithfully for a more honest result. The editing finally sorts itself out…in the closing credits, and by then it is too late.
The drama is barely saved by excellent supporting roles from Helen McCrory as British Vogue’s Lady Clare Rendlesham, and Joseph May as Larry Schwartz. Other than these two, there is little to entertain or enjoy in McKay’s fashion faux-pas.