Tantalising if timid version of '80s TV landmark

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The Singing Detective

OPENS NOVEMBER 14, CERT 15, 104 MINS

Director Keith Gordon (and producer Mel Gibson) keenly clarify that this is not their remake, as such, of Dennis Potter’s iconic 1986 TV series. Potter adapted the screenplay himself, condensing its nine hours and changing ’40s Britain into ’50s America. Thus the music becomes doo wop rock’n’roll (of the “At The Hop” and “Three Steps To Heaven” ilk), though the psychological traumas, flashback structure and fleeting hallucinations remain.

It’s an intriguing, brisk effort, but in truth Potter’s writing hasn’t aged well: his shock tactics have long become standard and his insights are now about as hip as Freud. Gordon seems intent on not treading on fans’ toes, so while pushing things along efficiently, he’s loath to bring anything fresh to the operating theatre. If this bursts into song, it’s down to the cast?chiefly that man Robert Downey Jr. Though mostly hidden under layers of psorias is as Dan Dark, Downey suggests more turbulence with his eyes than Michael Gambon did. And as his all-singing alter ego, he’s a vital force.

Robin Wright Penn counters him perfectly as Dark’s wife, Katie Holmes could never top Joanne Whalley’s finest hour, and Jeremy Northam is surprisingly vicious as the cad. Brief cameos from Gibson and Adrien Brody barely register. In tune, if quietly.