Review for Man at the Top - The Complete Second Series
'Man at the Top' originated as a take on John Braine's popular novel, 'Room at the Top' which has just enjoyed a new adaptation on BBC 4.
Series 2 of 'Man at the Top' originally aired in 1972 and, to a large degree, part of its charm is that it is so much a reflection of that time. From flowery flares and sideburns, to outmoded views and blatant sexism, it's every inch a period piece.
Penned by Tom Brennand and Roy Bottomley (in the spirit of Braine's original), you quickly get the sense that their comedic talents (used for 'Nearest and Dearest') mixes very well with their skills at penning damn good drama (Series 1 of 'Special Branch' for example).
Kenneth Haigh, a typical Yorkshire man, is perfectly cast as Joe Lampton, a male chauvinist who is happy to do whatever it takes to climb further up the ladder of success. Like a modernised Thomas Hardy novel, you can see the successes and falls a mile off, and the series plays out with a moralistically knowing tone throughout. Sure he's a bastard - but everyone knows it. But he's not a complete bastard, nor the only bastard.
Those who saw Series 1 (also available from Network) will spot the all new title sequence; a pensive, almost melancholic scene depicting Lampton climbing a hill and surveying his empire. We see images from the North (cobbled streets etc) intercut with images from the big city (the Post Office tower for example).
Lampton starts the series by visiting his wife in a poor attempt to make all look well for the new Chief Executive of Clayton Textiles, an old fashioned sort who likes all to be in order.
The series kicks off with some typically Dallas-like shenanigans with fellow Exec Finch trying his best to spoil Lampton's reputation with Maclaine, though it soon becomes clear that Lampton is just as inclined to fight dirty.
And so it goes. Eventually Joe lures Susan back and she starts her own business as a fashion consultant, seeking her independence and shoe-horning in plenty of 'discussion' around hot feminist issues of the day. It's all a little clumsy, but it is entertainment after all.
A great presence in Series 2 is a character who epitomizes everything we love and hate about Yorkshire men, Charlie Armitage played by Colin Welland. Joe pulls a fast one on him with regard to a property deal.
Tragically, Series 2 also sees Lampton start to take stock of what is important in life after Susan is injured in a car crash which also kills their daughter, Barbara. So much so that he rejects the conniving politics of his business and ends up unemployed and having to start out all over again, this time in full possession of a moral compass. Reduced to being a confectionary sales rep, his affair with a doctor soon comes to an end when it becomes apparent that he is not the powerful executive that he claims to be.
But like all many great dramatic melodramas, the last half dozen episodes see Joe claw his way back up from the bottom, once again doing whatever it takes, regardless of who gets hurt along the way, even pushing his way into politics to smooth the way for his greedy aspirations.
The whole series is pure melodramatic soap, and despite its age, is as gripping today as the day it originally aired. Performances are powerful throughout with a really superb ensemble cast, and the writing is cleverly done.
The show was clearly a great success. Less than a year after this series aired, Hammer Films produced a feature film version.
Video and audio quality is very good throughout for a video-taped TV series from this vintage. Anyone who liked Series 1 will certainly enjoy Series 2 every bit as much.
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