The Masterpiece Contemporary interpretation of Christopher Reid's narrative poem "Song of Lunch" is one of those stagings that you don't see very often on television. It's an intimate chamber piece, something that might be produced as a one-act play as it is largely the internal musings of one man. And, truthfully, you'll either appreciate the film's quiet lyricism and heartbreak or you will be utterly uninterested in its slight drama. Under the Masterpiece mantle, we've come to appreciate huge literary adaptations and other forms of spectacle--so "Song of Lunch" works as almost a experimental bit of theater (an anti-production, if you will). This difference is why I liked the brief 50 minute presentation. Of course, I was expecting more of a character exchange (as I assume most people would be) along the lines of "My Dinner With Andre" or the recent "The Trip." I mean, after all, if you have Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson at your disposal--you'd think this would be an acting tour-de-force. But the star here is the words, the poem.
Rickman plays a struggling editor who yearns to reconnect to a time in his life where he felt more alive, more impassioned. He has this idealized version of a past romance that he clings to as a symbol of youth and possibilities. The fact that the object of his affection has established a life (complete with husband and family) doesn't really seem to click with him. After 15 years, he sets up a lunch with Thompson and he has constructed this elaborate scenario about the way it will turn out. Other than this, you don't get a lot of back story about the characters. The lunch itself becomes a painful exercise in awkwardness, as the rather unpleasant Rickman descends into belligerence and an alcoholic haze. The actual dialogue is tight with some amusing lines, but most of the drama takes place in Rickman's mind. In many ways, Thompson becomes just another prop to support the narrative of Rickman's ramblings and failed expectations.
There is an underlying sadness and melancholia infused throughout the piece. Rickman, seemingly dissatisfied with life, makes a last ditch effort to revive a happier time. But the effort, as we all know it will be, is a futile one. But the elements of living life when you have the chance and not dwelling on regrets really does resonate. Interestingly, Rickman is NOT a particularly sympathetic character. This is certain to turn some viewers off. But it is precisely his unpleasantness that makes his quiet desperation so palpable. It's a great performance, though most of it in voice over. Thompson is the picture of loveliness. It's always great to see her, but she doesn't have too much to do. In the end, your expectations about what "Song of Lunch" should be will decide whether it is for you. It is a simple and evocative depiction of a narrative poem, not a fully plotted character piece. It may not be for everyone, but I think it succeeds at what it attempts to convey. KGHarris, 11/11.