Broxburn born Michael Caton-Jones has become one of Scotland’s most successful imports to Hollywood. His directorial CV includes the highs of Doc Hollywood and Scandal and the spectacular low that is Basic Instinct 2 (starring Stan Collymore!). His Rob Roy is the best Scottish historical drama of the 1990’s but was crushed beneath the behemoth that was ant-semitic charmer Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and you could argue that Caton-Jones’ career has never really recovered. It would be nice to think he’s got a few good movies left in him, but I can’t imagine anything matching his TV directorial début Brond.
Based on Frederic Lindsay’s novel of the same name Brond is a lost classic of British TV. I remember seeing it first time round in 1987 and it stood apart from most other TV of the time. One of the reasons for this is its sheer oddness. Imagine a Hammer House of Horror film of the 1970s directed by David Lynch and you’re close to the feel of Brond. There are sex, drugs and removal men and literary references aplenty. It doesn’t condescend to its audience and is brave enough to keep you confused right up to the end, and beyond.
As well as ‘introducing’ John Hannah to the world Brond had a fantastic cast including James Cosmo, Russell Hunter, Louise Beattie and the statuesque Stratford Johns.I don’t think that Hannah is a great actor, but he’s certainly better now than he is here, where he looks terrified throughout even when he’s trying to be cool. It makes you realise how competent most actors are when you witness acting as ropey as this. To be fair he is involved in an unfair battle against the majestic Stratford Johns.
Stratford Johns (above with John Hannah) was a regular on British TV screens from the ’50s until ill health stopped him working in the ’90s, and in the ’80s he could regularly be found inhabiting the strange cinematic world of Ken Russell in films such as The Lair of the White Worm and Salome’s Last Dance. He is an incredibly unsettling screen presence and he uses this to full affect as the mysterious Brond, a man who seems intent on destroying the life of Hannah’s student dreamer Robert. Like a modern day Faust, Brond leads Robert into temptation for his own ends and amusement.
Brond is a really interesting drama, and is well worth a repeat (although Channel 4 tend not to do repeats from their early glory days). It’s pretty convoluted, and even on the third viewing it’s difficult to quite get a grip on what is going on, but I think that’s the point. It plays with perspectives and asks questions of the audience without providing clear answers. The nature of evil is under examination and how you respond to that is always going to be deeply personal. It is some time after watching Brond that you realise it has stayed with you, and in a way that disturbs. Don’t watch this and eat cheese before you retire for the night. The following is not the most dramatic clip, but it is the only one I can find. If you are lucky enough to have a copy of the series (I’ve only seen it on video) then I hope you share it around. It deserves to be enjoyed by the widest possible audience:
For those lovers of great soundtracks Brond’s is a belter. The music is be ex-Be-Bop Deluxe guitarist Bill Nelson and is an orgy of evocative opera, all very Sturm and Drang. In fact Brond is a TV show that glories in excess, and as such is a very different beast from most Scottish drama which often relies on well worn clichés. A Modern Classic with all that entails.