Stephen Poliakoff is one of my favourite writer-directors. With his brand new five-part series, Dancing On The Edge, airing on the BBC tomorrow night, I though I would spend the next few weeks looking back over his substantial filmography.
Poliakoff’s wide ranging works are deeply psychological and often involve a complicated web of themes. Intelligently scripted and sharply directed, Poliakoff’s work is notable for its powerful characterisation, brought to life by an array of unparalleled performances. Polikoff’s success has enabled him a large degree of creative freedom – something that is paying off in his well crafted feature length dramas.
Poliakoff began his career writing stage plays for the National Theatre, moving into television writing during the late 1970s. One of his earliest feature length dramas for the BBC, Caught On A Train (1980) is often referred to as a television masterpiece. Written by Polikoff and directed by Peter Duffel, Caught On A Train won a BAFTA for Best Single Play.
Poliakoff further boosted his television career, uniting his sharp screenwriting with his own impressive direction in Shooting The Past (1999), which resulted in BAFTA wins for its cast (Timothy Spall and Lindsay Duncan). His three part series, Perfect Strangers (2001), also received six BAFTA nominations including a win for Michael Gambon’s gripping performance. More recently Poliakoff has given us Capturing Mary (2007), a dark and disturbing tale of a controlling man (played by the impressively troubling David Walliams) who ruins the social chances of an innocent young woman (Ruth Wilson).
Poliakoff’s first effort at movie direction was the highly acclaimed Hidden City (1987), exploring themes of government secrecy. Unfortunately it is now notoriously difficult to obtain a copy of this remarkable film and it remains largely unseen by modern audiences (if anyone out there has a copy going spare, please drop me a line!). From this point forward, Poliakoff has directed all of his own writing, with the exception of television series Frontiers (1996).
Spending much of the 1990s working in film, Poliakoff followed up his 1987 success with Close My Eyes (1991), starring Alan Rickman, Clive Owen and Saskia Reeves. Set against the backdrop of the British summer, it’s an intense tale of incest and infatuation.
Throughout his career, Poliakoff has also written consistently for theatre and, in recent years, has frequently directed his own work. Collections of his scripts are available to buy (published by Methuen) and you can read my summary of Poliakoff’s appearance at the 2011 Cheltenham literature festival where he discussed his most recent stage play, My City, here.
Join me over the next few weeks, as I revisit some of Poliakoff’s iconic films
Poliakoff is an incredible talent who has amassed widespread critical acclaim and should be regarded as a national treasure. Join me over the next few weeks, as I revisit some of the iconic films in Poliakoff’s back catalogue including Close My Eyes, Shooting The Past, The Lost Prince and Glorious 39.
And don’t forget to check out Dancing On The Edge this Monday night – it follows a black jazz band in 1930s Britain, exploring the invention of celebrity and the new medium of radio – and has been described as Poliakoff’s most ambitious work to date. Here’s the trailer! You can also read an interview with Stephen about his new series on The Telegraph website.
Click here to visit my dedicated Spotlight On Stephen Poliakoff page and read all of the posts in this collection.