Monday, 24 December 2012

TV Review: BBC1's MR STINK

Monday, 24 December 2012

This hour-long adaptation of David Walliams' best-selling novel was a pleasant surprise; taking many inspirations and weaving them into something that stood on its own two feet. It told the story of 12-year-old Chloe Crumb (Nell Tiger Free), who strikes up an unlikely friendship with local tramp Mr Stink (Hugh Bonneville) after taking pity on him and inviting him to live in her family's garden shed. They're both victims of bullying (Chloe by her school friends, Stink by society) who find strength together, and naturally this leads to life-changing events for them both.

Walliams is a noted fan of Roald Dahl (the book was even drawn by Dahl's long-standing illustrator Quentin Blake), and it was obvious Mr Stink owed a debt to Dahl's work. It was suitably anarchic and cheeky at times, while telling a light-hearted story that had something important to say about people's attitudes and prejudice about the homeless. It lacked Dahl's imagination, and several ideas felt lifted from other sources (Skellig's own shed-living entity, a mispronunciation of "Crumb" joke taken from sitcom Keeping Up Appearances), but there was also plenty of Walliams' own comedy voice here. I particularly loved Mrs Crumb as a younger, scarier version of Margaret Thatcher; brilliantly portrayed by Sheridan Smith—who almost stole the show from under Bonneville's nose.

All of the performances were strong, however. Nell Tiger Free made for a winsome heroine, and it was great to have a young actress who could hold your attention on-screen without looking too affected. She was very natural, and had a particularly good rapport with Bonneville—who spent the hour channelling a grumpier version of his Downton Abbey aristocrat, with added CGI stink-waves familiar to fans of Scooby Doo.

I didn't have the opportunity to watch Mr Stink in 3D (I believe it's the first scripted drama commissioned for that contentious medium by the BBC), but in most respects the production standard looked crisp and smart in high-definition. There weren't many opportunities for anything remarkable to happen for director Declan Lowney to show-off, beyond a few guts of stink blowing into people's faces and causing them to recoil with their eyes watering, but it all looked very vibrant and Christmassy by the end.

Mr Stink may have been improved with a tighter running time because the story began to flag slightly after the first 40 minutes, but it ended on a life affirming note and avoided a banal happy ending with Mr Stink being given a makeover and shave. The adaptation took a few liberties with the source material (Chloe certainly isn't podgy in the TV version; Duchess the dog wasn't black and didn't look very smelly—as played by Britain's Got Talent's canine winner Pudsey), but the spirit and sense of comedy translated well. Venerable sitcom writer Simon Nye adapted Walliams' book with the comedian's input, and it all came together very nicely. I wouldn't be surprised if the BBC are already eyeing Walliams' other books for adaptations (The Boy in the Dress, Billionaire Boy, Gangsta Granny and Ratburger), as it's obvious they convert very well to the small-screen.

23 December 2012 / BBC1