The Smoke-Sky 1 & Sky 1 HD Chanels 121 and 122 on Virgin TV
So here we have what is ostensibly a soap opera heavy series set in Mile End Fire station. In another London set urban grittily scened backdrop like my current favourite UK drama Suspects. Suspects is a gift which keeps on giving, with its beautiful and unexpected shots of night time London in places never usually shown or seen before. Additionally, the Police Station in Suspects appears to be in the region of Liverpool Street Station, as we see tubes or rather overground trains clanking in an out from the windows.
Still, i digress.
The Smoke is probably something i would not usually watch, having been done before by London’s Burning and the fabulous but brief (since it migrated to another channel then ceased) Denis Leary Series of the same idea: the day to day life of the inhabitants and workers of the Fire Station. I did check out Chicago Fire but it was too syrupy and stereotypical.
However i read an interesting preview of The Smoke and gathered that it was very well researched over a couple of years.
The writer originally wanted to set it in Soho Fire Station but this was not possible. I don’t think it is the real Mile End Station but that is the idea of the dramatic set up. Relating that her script had 62 drafts and that she wanted to write a drama about men in this kind of job and that The Smoke was partly inspired by a book by Ernest Hemingway piqued my interest.
As i have related on these pages, there are very few dramas with men as the main characters and i like to watch them. Hatufim was an example of a series which related a story of two men, the prisoner of war friends, as the main characters.
Additionally, The Smoke has Jeremy Bamber in it from the UK Law and Order Series.
(Nb. the new series has new characters)
Jeremy plays in an excellent duo of Detectives, with his older colleague.
I do note that although Jeremy, as his character Kev, has had time to perfect a sort of cockney East end accent, on reflection from his older colleague from Law & Order, it is a variable accent here.
In The Smoke Jeremy is meant to be an East ender “Guv’nor” of the Fire Station. Returning to work after an horrific happening, I would have said accident however it wasn’t. Since Kev’s brave ascent to the top floor of a burning flat to save a baby whilst the parents and particularly the mother, scream in terror on the ground below, is only hampered by the appearance of two eponymous hooded youths who set to and start beating Kev up!
One of the youths calls the other “Gog” and Kev sees a flash of a dragon tattoo on a bum as he grabs at him.
Unfortunately this delay means that the floor then explodes and Kev is slowly engulfed in fire. With his head sticking out of the window waiting for the ALP (a really long ladder) that never comes. Because of the cuts. Since the Firemen have to phone to another fire station to borrow their ALP.
We never really find out if the baby survives, but we do see the baby stop crying, as Kev looks down and weeps brokenly.
Fast forward however many long months later and Kev is out of Hospital and returning to the fire Station for his first day back at work. He looks OK in appearance and seems cheerful in demeanour. Though we see a fleeting shot of Kev having white cream rubbed on his back by beautiful Jodie Whitaker, his fiancée before she sees him off. Following the car in the road for a while, watching him go.
All the fire crew are careful to avoid the subject and have a raucous sing along instead in the Fire engine as they return from a road traffic accident where Kev has comforted and talked to a young girl whilst she is cut free from the wreckage. We see Kev steal her pink i-Pod and put it in his pocket. Kev’s mates in the fire engine rib him about this.
There are also jokes about the rather earthy physical reaction experienced by the young rookie fire-fighter who they have nicknamed ASBO ( anti-social behaviour order) since he comes from an estate I guess.
The infamous estate in which Kev was badly burned. We find out just how badly Kev was burnt when he gets drunk and pops pills and turn up at a special top brass firemen’s do./evening.
Kev has a best mate called Mel who for reasons unknown is living with Kev and his beautiful girlfriend Jodie Whitaker. Mel, much like Kev has a posh accent that is unlikely to be found in a Fire-station. However as time or episodes have gone on, both actors have essayed and archived a more cockney or East End accent.
There are other characters who are all believable and are portrayed as living semi-tragic and bitter lives. One character struggles for respect from his fellow firemen to the extent of changing the planned outcome of a cage fight he is in. To his own risk.
The love interest/ love triangle storyline was less enamouring to me than the beautifully played relationship between Kev and the young and troubled ASBO.
For reasons unclear other than his ongoing inner trauma (unsatisfied by the persistent and pregnant Counsellor) Kev plays hooky one night and takes ASBO with him in a rambling trip both physical and in talking to ASBO, all over London. They end up at High Beech, a grassy knoll with a mile wide view of London in the middle of Epping Forest. ASBO, whose father is absent and quite where he is and why is uncovered later, imprints on Kev like a young motherless bird.
However the next time the Fire crew are out for a knees up celebrating in their local pub, a giant old tiled building seemingly standing alone like it was the pub at the end of the world, Kev forgets about ASBO.
We see ASBO forlorn and uncomfortable at the bar, on the outside again as Kev regales the crew with tall tales.
As the story progresses it is we as the audience who know the dark secret that ASBO holds and can only wait for calamity to strike. In full dramatic dénouement.
Yet it is ASBO who provides Kev with some kind of healing outlet when ASBO takes Kev up to the original burnt out room where (we find out) the baby died and Kev was burnt. ASBO urges Kev to smash up the room.
There is also an excellent turn by ASBO’s nemesis, Gog, who manages to radiate menace and evil whilst appearing to be polite and even helpful. One scene opens with Gog demonstrating a knock-off Dyson vacuum cleaner to ASBO’s mum in their council estate flat.
“Na, its not a Dyson”
Gog replies to ASBO’s mum, a famous British actress doing a brilliant turn in a wig of elderly curls,
“Its a Dysoni, see?”
Mixed in with this are the day to day call outs, sometimes comical, mixed up with near death and finger biting high rise feats. Along with pitifully wrenching grieving relatives of RTA’s (Road Traffic Accidents)
Next week it looks like all hell breaks lose, if hell was really fire, since the clip shows half the cast involved and at least two people trapped underground in water.
I am not so good on those bits. It’s all a bit too realistic for me. I mostly daren’t look.
Indeed if it looks like such realistic tragedy will be writ too large over the story/ narrative I am mostly interested in, ASBO and Kev, and to a lesser extent Kev and Mel, I may well ditch.
The whole thing is kept afloat by the excellent acting, especially of Jeremy Bamber as Kev and young ASBO, with his face made for sorrow.
Along with the big-eyed and eared naive part-time cage fighter father. Who looks to me like he has got himself onto real trouble now with the evil and eponymous fixer with giant designer specs.
“I just need your password, just type in your digits” the fixer inveigles the bug-eyed with terror fire-fighter.
“It will all be OK”. (sure) As the fixer paws the fire-fighter’s phone. The more the fixer talks, the more the young father relaxes and believes and trusts the fixer man in spectacles. Big mistake son, as they might say down Mile End way.
The Smoke is all a bit overblown. As in in your face and emotion and action heavy.
The experience of watching it is personal and moving and most of all believable. It is up close and personal and you care about the characters. Well most of them.
The women in The Smoke (apart from the officially feisty fire-fighter and Kev’s fiancée with her slightly soppy sidebar of human interest) are nicely evinced as variously angry, annoyed and unpleasant. Or bonkers.
“But I’m due in Ipswich at 4 O’ clock!” a business woman says angrily as her boyfriend dangles from the top of an office block with a banner asking him to marry her.