Monday, 9 April 2012

The Syndicate: If we don't have a lottery win to hope for, what else is there?!

How many times a week might you find yourself fantasising about a lottery win?

And how many times a week is that same thought directly followed by the intention to actually go and buy a ticket, meaning your fantasies are fractionally more likely to come true?

Luckily for Stuart, Leanne, Jamie, Bob and Denise, employees of a supermarket and members of a lottery syndicate in the Kay Mellor-penned five-part BBC One drama The Syndicate, they had bought not only a ticket, but a winning ticket - except, this being a drama and all, it's not happy ever after.

In fact, it's anything but - and not only has the lottery win caused and revealed all sorts of complications in the characters' already quite complicated lives, they - that is, the mysterious tv producing they - have gone for a storytelling technique known as 'quite clever', which over the duration of the series will hopefully reward regular watching, but in the shorter term, it means you have to concentrate. 
Timothy Spall as shop manager Bob, prior to him being whacked on the back of the head with a whiskey bottle
So the result is that there are flashbacks at work, and in the first two parts in particular, many of the events we've seen occur between the time before they discover they've won (and a faked armed robbery on their shop), and the moment the five are unveiled to the press as the 'lucky' winners.
We also get to see some of the same events - and sometimes the same scenes - from the perspectives of different characters (each episode has a focus one of the five lead characters), and each time a little more light is shed onto a situation (a similar technique is also being used in ITV1's four-part Titanic drama, which is now starting to pay off).
It's a strong technique that goes straight to your brain's 'penny drops' area, and helps the whole thing come together - although tv-ooh can't help but think it must have been a nightmare to plan.
And while the acting is absolutely solid and completely convincing, there's a few dramatic leaps required before you can truly relax and enjoy the thing.
"But I don't want to live in Essex, Gav!" Joanna Page not playing Stacey in Gavin and Stacey
For example, Jamie's plan to fake an armed robbery on the shop where he and his brother Stuart both work, in order to help Stuart get the deposit together for a flat for his family, seemed a bit extreme - as did Jamie bashing his unexpectedly-returning boss Bob over the back of the head with a bottle of whiskey out the back, just to make the robbery look 'authentic'.

Script-wise, it's been covered by giving Jamie a 'thing' for drugs and alcohol, and therefore prone to acts of stupidity, but even so, it's a bit of a stretch.

It's also clear that Stacey from Gavin and Stacey - here playing a single mum called Leanne who oddly has a daughter called Stacey - has Got A Past and that She Doesn't Want To Be Found. We know this because she's doing her best 'awkward acting' with her eyes, whenever publicity for the win is mentioned; while Lovable Big Girl Denise, caring for a cranky live-in mother, goes from kind-hearted loser to teeth-whitened winner when she decides to reject her recently returned, money-hungry husband when she finds out he's been having an affair with one of his mother's carers, a bloke called Chris who gets all upset and lets the cat out of the bag, so to speak.

She donates money to a dogs' home after sort-of flirting with one of the volunteers there with a rubbery face - tv-ooh suspects the pair of them will get married, thus finishing off Denise's 'story arc' nicely, but that's probably to come in about, ooh, episode five?

Of course, a series about five lottery winners could have been fluffy and cosy and lightweight so it's good we've got something more complicated and dark than that - and while it all might still have a happy ending, the message of the programme is loud and clear:

Winning the lottery isn't the solution to all of life's problems - it can help solve some money worries, and buy you a nice car, but as we're seeing here in The Syndicate, it can create more problems than it solves. Especially if you work in a supermarket and are part of a syndicate with people who, y'know, are having problems.

We reckon we'd all still like to try a lottery win for ourselves though, right?


  1. Really enjoying this - great group of actors. Joy, sorrow, hapiness, sadness - it has it all - well done BBC and thanks to all the actors for their brilliant performances.

  2. (Re : The Syndacate)
    what is the name of the actress who plays Anne, Bob's wife? i a retty sure i have seen her before, but her name.....????

    1. Bob - absolutely agree with you, and thanks for your comments.
      Anonymous - The actress who plays Annie is called Katherine Dow Blyton, and she's been in This is England 86, among lots of small parts in programmes like Casualty, Doctors and Coronation Street, so you might recognise her from there - have a look at her IMDB profile for more on what she's done:

  3. I play every weeks! I know that we have a little chance to win, but I need some distraction in my life and dreaming a little bit! I didn't see this movie yet! But I will watch it to night! Maybe it will change my mind!