OUT is the name of a just-released DVD six-part series from 1978 starring one of the most intense actors of his generation: Tom Bell.
While his stage career began in 1948, Bell didn’t enter films and television until the late fifties, where he was part of generation of working-class, “angry young men” hell-raiser types like Peter O’Toole and Albert Finny, two of his better-known (and more successful) contemporaries. Bell’s celluloid/tape career began promisingly enough but his drinking led to an infamous incident in which Bell heckled Prince Philip, who was giving a speech at an awards function. While the Prince deflected Bell’s comment with good-humoured aplomb, those sitting at Bell’s table (which included the likes of Sir Richard Attenborough) were mortified at Bell’s faux pas. It is said this incident impeded Bell’s progress into the stratosphere of film and television stardom.
Still, he did quite well, and was considered to have never given a bad performance.
There is a lean, mean, fightin’ machine demeanor about Bell which works greatly in his favour as a screen presence. He once said “If you act you need to have threat. Without threat, nobody notices you.” This intensity is precisely the reason Bell is so outstanding in OUT, another little-known gem given new life by Acorn Media from the archives of classic British television.
Frank Ross, Bell’s character, has just been released from an eight-year stint in prison. He is now “out” of jail and wants to know who “grassed” on him–which is English parlance for “squealed”. Bell is a man with a not-so-advisable mission, though curiously, it involves honour and an underlying moral thread to “do the right thing”.
This element, captured in the eloquent script by Trevor Preston and executed particularly well by the driven yet not manic Bell, is what keeps the viewer intrigued and on the side of the protagonist. This is no easy feat when the central figure is an unrepentant criminal.
While being pursued by a compulsive policeman, Detective Inspector Bryce, played very well by Norman Rodway, it becomes clear that Bell is on a collision course with disaster. Will he be destroyed by his own desire for vengeance? Will he be curiously redeemed? Will he make amends with his wife, who has been committed to a mental institution? Will his influence on his teenage son be nurturing or destructive?
OUT is an excellent crime thriller and you really find yourself drawn into Bell’s dilemma. How can he move on with his life until he determines once and for all who was responsible for his going to jail? How will he respond if/when he does find out? Will his subsequent actions land him back in prison?
These questions will all be answered to your satisfaction when you invest the time to watch OUT.
If you remember Tom Bell’s riveting performance as Otley in “Prime Suspect”, in which he went from playing a sexist cop to a repentant, recovering alcoholic, you’ll be astounded to see him here: younger, fit, full of life–the very opposite of the wiry, drawn-looking Otley. Tom Bell could do it all.
On a technical note, because this series was made in 1978, when videotape was still being used for interior scenes in some British-made productions, I wasn’t sure what to expect here. Fortunately, the entire series is shot on film, which adds immeasurably to the grittiness and style of the piece.