Brave new world meets the bucolic old on Shooting the Past, a fairy tale for the new millennium. Set in a sprawling library of vintage photos, the plot pits the archive's devoted but hopelessly eccentric staff against a relentless new owner who orders the ten million pictures sold -- or else destroyed -- to make way for his chic business college for the 21st century.
Timothy Spall (Our Mutual Friend, Secrets and Lies) stars as Oswald Bates, the library's oddball curator -- a one-man search engine with a phenomenal ability to connect faces and places in the labyrinth of glossies.
Liam Cunningham (Cracker) is Christopher Anderson, the millionaire American developer who refuses to let a lot of dusty photos interfere with his dream of a new kind of institution for training capitalists.
Lindsay Duncan (The Rector's Wife, Traffik, A Year in Provence, An Ideal Husband) is Marilyn Truman, the library's strong-willed manager who is convinced that there must be a route to the American's soul, if he has one.
And Emilia Fox (Rebecca) is Trig, Marilyn's dope-smoking assistant who instructs her boss on how to be vapidly trendy in order to lure hip advertising executives into buying the library.
Then there are the photos themselves, thousands of actual historic images supplied by London's Hulton Getty Picture Collection. In two spellbinding sequences, Oswald and Marilyn walk the American through a pair of riveting stories with surprise endings in hope of impressing -- or perhaps blackmailing? -- him into sparing the archive.
Written and directed by British filmmaker and dramatist Stephen Poliakoff, Shooting the Past was praised by the London press as a "masterpiece" (Evening Standard), "a mysterious reverie about passing time and shifting values" (Guardian), and "excellent, with a powerful atmosphere, a splendid cast...an unusual and intriguing theme...often very funny" (Financial Times).
"A picture can transform its meaning over and over again depending on who is narrating," says Poliakoff. "I realized that this idea was intrinsically connected with storytelling and I set out to create a drama that would work with the rich visual texture of photography and the intimacy that television offers."
Shooting the Past is a Talkback Production for BBC Television, and is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston. It was written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff and produced by John Chapman. The executive producers are Simon Curtis and Peter Fincham.
Masterpiece Theatre is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston. Rebecca Eaton is series executive producer. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker is series host. Masterpiece Theatre is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH.
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