"We are loonies, and we are proud!"July 1, 2008 by
Fourteen years ago, there was rather a good mini-series (six 50-minute episodes) made by BBC Scotland, called Takin' Over The Asylum. At the time it stood out as being an excellent piece of drama, but despite winning awards and praise for its representation of people with mental illnesses, it was only been repeated once, the following year, and was never seen again. Now it has been released on DVD.
For the story behind the series, I can't do better than point you to the Guardian article by the writer of the serial, Donna Franceschild. However, having now bought and watched the DVD, I can say whether I think it's still good fourteen years on.
Fourteen years of waiting may be a bit much for any drama to really live up to, but considering that, it stands up pretty well. It's an odd mixture of realism and slightly overstated comedy, but both work and don't ultimately detract from each other.
The central character, Eddie (Ken Stott), a hospital DJ and reluctant double-glazing salesman, loses his hospital radio slot to a gum-chewing young Ashley Jensen (a minor role). As some compensation, he's offered the chance to revive the radio station at a psychiatric hospital.
The main storyline follows the fortunes of the radio station he builds up with the help of some of the residents, but intertwined with that are his progress in the sales job he hates, his relationship with his grandmother, and of course the lives of the residents he works with.
Although it's a comedy, it doesn't shy away from posing some difficult questions about mental health and how it's dealt with by society. The first episode includes someone who perhaps shouldn't be in a mental asylum at all, although by the end of the episode we are led to question whether things have changed for the better.
Nor is it one-sided. At some point we see a sympathetic side to most of the less likable characters. They're doing the best they can, even if we don't like the way they go about it. There are some out-and-out bad guys, but they're mostly restricted to the double-glazing sub-plot.
Even though a shocking moment in one of the middle episodes is what stayed with me most through the years, I'd forgotten that the series was, over all, a little downbeat and inconclusive, but don't take those words as a negative criticism - they're dramatically appropriate, and there are some balancing factors. We know that lives will go on without us watching.
I'd recommend seeing it on its own merits, but there is one other thing about this series that might be of interest. Eddie's main assistant on the radio station is the manic depressive Campbell - the first major TV role for a young actor called David Tennant.