White Teeth TV MA, L, S
Airing Sundays, May 11 + 18, 2003 on PBS
(Check local listings; dates and times may vary)
Zadie Smith's anarchic comedy set in multiracial northwest London comes mind-blowingly to life in a two-part adaptation of her acclaimed first novel. Hailed as "street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical" by the New York Times and "funny as hell" by Newsweek, Smith wrote White Teeth at the astonishing age of 24.
Set in the cultural farrago of Willesden Green, where Smith grew up, White Teeth tells the story of three families in the hippy-to-hiphop era of 1974 to 1992 -- with a nostalgia-inducing soundtrack of popular hits from the period.
"I wanted to write a book about a man who... lives a good life by accident," Smith says of White Teeth's protagonist, professional envelope-folder Archie Jones (played by Phil Davis), whom she compares to Jimmy Stewart.
In British-music-hall fashion, she pairs Archie with a sidekick who is his opposite in nearly every way. Bengali waiter Samad Iqbal (Om Puri) is intellectual where Archie is clueless, a devout Muslim where Archie is a laid-back atheist, and a tormented adulterer where Archie is an oblivious family man. But they have been best friends since an experience involving a fugitive war criminal during World War II -- an incident that comes back to haunt Archie at crucial points in the plot.
The story begins on New Year's Eve 1974, when Archie decides to end it all in a carbon monoxide-filled haze. Coincidentally, a nearby commune is celebrating the impending end of the world. Both Archie and the world survive to have some very unusual adventures.
Smith populates White Teeth with an assortment of curious characters worthy of Dickens himself -- from Archie and Samad's headstrong spouses, lapsed Jehovah's Witness Clara (Naomie Harris) and tart-tongued Bengali Alsana (Archie Panjabi); to Clara's fire-and-brimstone mother, Hortense (Mona Hammond); Samad and Alsana's twin sons, brainy Magid and gang-leader Millat (both played by Christopher Simpson); and Archie and Clara's diffident daughter, Irie (Sarah Ozeke).
Then there are the smugly scholarly Malfen family, the militant Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (an Islamic sect with an acronym problem), and a crazed animal liberation outfit called Fighting Animal Torture and Exploitation (FATE).
All come together for a debacle at a pre-millennium bash for a genetically modified mouse.
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Preview: White Teeth
Essays + Interviews
Who's Who/Cast + Credits
Novel to Film
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