Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
Cast: Jane Horrocks, Tom Hollander, Ellie Haddington, Tony Haygarth, David Dawson, Ruth Kearney, Alistair Petrie, Ed Coleman, Tom Meredith, Stephen Lloyd, Matthew Aubrey, Paul Westwood, April Walker, Kieron Jecchinis, Harry Ditson, Christian Contreras, Nathan Nolan, Nigel Whitmey, Philip Desmeules, David Brooks, Laurence Belcher, Edward Lamont.
The life of Gracie Fields was perhaps one that could be seen as one of the first modern day character assassinations of a popular artist by both press with papers to sell and by a section of the British public to whom it could be argued that jealousy and misunderstanding were the price of someone’s fame; how the popular entertainer from Rochdale would have coped in the age of social media and quick fired vindictiveness is one for speculation. It is a shame though that it has taken so long for her reputation as one of Britain’s foremost music hall and singers to bounce back to where it stood on the brink of World War Two.
The television drama Gracie! sought to address a lot of the stigma she faced whilst treading the boards in Canada as part of the war effort and one instigated by Winston Churchill, albeit with the idea that she would not see her Italian born husband, the impresario and film director, Monty Banks, interned for the duration of the war.
The lies and slurs she fought through gritted teeth and smiling performances as the British press called both her and her husband fascists and the shame of losing the respect of those she had sought to inspire, from ordinary Rochdale housewife to the soldier at the front, would have broken a less stoic soul and it is still an issue many face today; Gracie Fields being in many ways a casualty of a war she had no control over.
In Jane Horrocks they could not have found a finer actor to take on the role, the sound of her voice, both as a singer and as a woman on the edge of seeing her life destroyed by controversy, is both beguiling and intelligent, a sure way of showing the unaware that someone’s life is not about the headline of the day, that even now we are quick to judge on one moment rather than the lifetime or the story that was not told.
With tremendous support from Tom Hollander and David Dawson, Gracie! is an hour of television that gets to grip with a chapter of a woman’s life that could have destroyed her but instead should have been one should have been her crowning glory as a forces sweetheart.
Ian D. Hall