The first part of this BBC adaptation of Martin Amis’ novel, Money, ended with John Self, the greaseball wannabe movie producer on the cusp of success and disaster. His ‘family film’, also called Money, was beginning to get off the ground, but at the same time his excesses of drugs, booze and women were also starting to take their toll, as the phone calls from a mystery nemesis became increasingly frequent and menacing.
In episode two, Self struggles to convince his movie’s lead actor to change his name from Spunk to the less embarrassing Hunk (“I know what Spunk means,” the American innocently protests, “it means bravery and strength.”)
Like the first episode, Money‘s events and scenes have a strange, disconnected quality, not dissimilar to Nick Frost’s central performance. Frost, an otherwise likeable and effective comic actor in Spaced and Shaun Of The Dead, never invests his character with the requisite venom to lift it off the screen.
The kind of character Amis had in mind was surely a monster, an oily embodiment of everything that was grasping, desperate and plain avaricious about the 80s. By contrast, Frost is almost apologetic, like a mildly annoying punter in a local pub, rather than the epitome of an era of vulgar excess.
Frost’s portrayal is so gentle and unassuming that, even at his most inebriated and shambling, his character comes across as somebody more to be pitied rather than horrified by. What Money needs is a central performance as crackling with repressed rage as John Cleese’s monstrous Basil Fawlty, or as dishevelled, flawed, yet compelling as Robbie Coltrane’s turn in Cracker.
That said, there are isolated moments when this second episode comes fitfully to life. The scene where Self discovers that his sly, baby-faced producer has, unbeknownst to him, been staying in the hotel room next door all along is brilliantly awkward. Similarly, the moment when Self’s girlfriend dumps him for a richer, smoother new lover leads to a sequence of self pity and self abuse that is by turns funny and curiously touching.
The abrasive quality of the dialogue also serves as the occasional reminder that you’re watching an adaptation of a Martin Amis novel. Self’s narration, as he attempts to get his life on track by switching his drink of choice to vodka and peddling away half-heartedly on an exercise bike, leads to the odd gem of a line like this: “Whenever I light up I ask myself, ‘Do I really need this fag?’ The answer is almost invariably yes, but, you know, there’s hope.”
Once again, Money‘s production standards and visual style are evocative of the 80s era of neon and chrome, but without the grittier, shocking aspects of the original novel – the bodily functions, the explicit self abuse – to act as a counterpoint, the drama lacks an important sense of reality, like an extended episode of Crossroads with added champagne and Columbian marching powder.
Nevertheless, Money‘s final scenes, where Self’s entire American movie-making venture is revealed to be something rather less than he expected, is well handled, and Vincent Kartheiser, so brilliant as Pete in Mad Men, reveals himself to be the true star of the drama in the episode’s final moments. Whatever roles Kartheiser chooses next, he’d surely make a genuinely scary Batman villain.
Money, therefore, is something of a conundrum. As a drama, it all but limps along until its final act, when Kartheiser, and, of course, Amis, makes a twist of the knife that leaves you wondering why the rest of the production couldn’t have been invested with the same level of toothsome conviction.
Read our review of part one here.