You shouldn’t ever go back

I rarely watch television.  Most of it is rubbish; idiotic game shows, predictable soaps, tedious news commentary and mind numbing adverts.  But ‘The Song of Lunch’,  the dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s narrative, superbly performed by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson,  was something different.   

Shocking, intense and bleak, the poem is a minutely observed encounter between two middle-aged one-time lovers.  She is bright, kind and sensitive, but she can afford to be.  She has moved on, married a successful author, she has made something of her life.  He has not.  In the fifteen years since they last met, his soul has been corroded by disappointment and bitterness.  He remembers their affair with a desperate longing, but he is too vulnerable to show it.  Instead he affects a vacant sarcasm, pretends he doesn’t care and gets drunk.  He can’t bear to engage with the ghost.  She understands and reaches out to help him and there is a moment when you imagine they will leave and go to bed. No, that would be too much to bear.  He looks away, stares at the waitress’s bottom and drinks more wine.  He tries to pour some for her but she places her hand over her glass.  

You wonder why he wrote suggesting they meet for lunch, why she accepted, why they met here of all places.  Was it just that he wanted to rekindle a spark of life in the ashes of his existence, to rediscover the meaning he had lost?   Did she want to witness his capitulation, his final degradation? 

He gets up to go to the toilet but falls asleep on the roof.  She pays and goes.  But later as he leaves the empty restaurant, he sees a tired old man eating alone in the corner.   Massimo, the owner, one-time life and soul of an everlasting party, promoter of dreams, is now just a grey shadow. 

The Song of Lunch was broadcast on BBC 2 at 9pm on October 8th.