Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Chewy Verse: The Song of Lunch

Sometimes bad poets create interesting verse. Such will be the case when an unnamed unhappy London copy-editor meets an old flame for lunch. The Chianti will help. His internal commentary incorporates elements of the mock epic and the lament in equal measure throughout The Song of Lunch (trailer here), Niall MacCormick’s adaptation of Christopher Reid’s narrative poem, which airs this coming Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece Contemporary.

“He” as He will be known, never got over “She.” Despite his passion for her, another man whisked her off her feet and stole her away. To add further insult, his rival has since become a world renown man of letters, while he labors in a lowly publishing job (aren’t they all?). At his invitation, She popped over from Paris for the express purpose of having lunch with him at their old Soho haunt. Yet, even though She is visiting from another country, He will be carrying all the baggage.

The man’s narration is sophisticated in a self-consciously erudite way, much as we might assume his poetry to be. He can turn a clever phrase and has a knack for expressing uncomfortably real sentiments, sparing himself least of all. Yet, a little of his resentful ruminations will go a long way. Fortunately, lunch is short meal, clocking in at just under an hour.

Though many viewers might be more than ready for the check when it comes, Masterpiece Contemporary deserves credit for stretching their format. It is not often one sees a film as literate and introspective as Song in theaters, let alone on broadcast television. It is also perfectly cast. Alan Rickman’s rich, warm voice caresses Reid’s poetry, while his flinty edge well serves the character’s lingering bitterness. As She, Emma Thompson is smart and tough, looking the part of an attractive woman of middlish age that a failed poet might continue carrying a torch for.

Deftly helmed by MacCormick, Song offers up moments of quiet poignancy at the most unexpected places. Granted, the narrator can try our patience, but he is supposed to. Ultimately, it rather gracefully expresses that great poetic truth: tempus fugit. Recommended both for its lead performances and its novelty, Song airs this coming Sunday (11/13) on most PBS outlets, as part of the current season of Masterpiece Contemporary.