The One and Only



UK 2002 : Simon Cellan Jones : 91 mins

In 1971, Mike Hodges used the Quayside of Newcastle-upon-Tyne as one of the alluringly dilapidated backdrops for his gritty gangland thriller Get Carter. 15 years later, Mike Figgis revisited the same settings for Stormy Monday, a more stylised, noirish kind of crime drama that re-imagined the area as a neon-lit, jazz-themed, sophisticated kind of urban jungle – which involved dressing up the still largely-neglected riverside buildings with some stragetically-placed signs and elaborate false frontages.

Another decade and a half on, and the illusion has become the reality: the Quayside has been transformed in a manner beyond even the grandiose schemes of Stormy Monday‘s devious Yank ‘businessman’ played by Tommy Lee Jones, with upscale bars, restaurants and hotels, and a world-class modern-art gallery in the Baltic centre, reached by a miracle of modern engineering known as the Millennium Bridge.

This is the Quayside we see in The One and Only, a modern urban comedy about the relationship travails of a gaggle of well-heeled north-easterners. Anyone familiar with Newcastle’s development over the last three decades may wonder whether to applaud or to weep. What they probably won’t be in much danger of, however, is laughing, given the mostly flaccid attempts at ‘humour’ in Peter Flannery’s script. It’s adapted from a Danish film from 1999, Den Eneste Ene – apparently a major hit on home soil, though oddly, given the successful record of Denmark’s recent exports, barely known abroad – written by Kim Fupz Aakeson, also responsible for the similarly easygoing Minor Mishaps and the forthcoming Okay: the lukewarm titles aren’t unrepresentative of their content.

When kitchen designer Neil (Richard Roxburgh) is widowed after the sudden death of his partner Sharon (Kerry Rolfe), he’s left holding the baby – in this case 6-year-old Mgala (silent Angel Thomas), an orphan from Burkina Faso adopted by the couple just before Sharon’s untimely death. Neil had been having very cold feet about the adoption in particular and his relationship with Sharon in general, so isn’t too grief-stricken by the tragedy, and is soon boozing with laddish best-pal Stan (Michael Hodgson). Neil becomes friendly with a client, Stevie (Justine Waddell), whose relationship with egotistical footballer Sonny (offensive caricature from Jonathan Cake) is on very rocky ground – soon after discovering that she’s pregnant, she also finds out that Sonny has been playing away from home.

It’s all familiar, sentimental, predictable stuff, especially for viewers of small-screen dramas in the Cold Feet mode. This is an inherently conservative format – tellingly, the climax features a narrowly averted abortion (always a negative choice in this type of story) followed by a wedding that ties up every loose end in time-honoured fashion. While it’s arguably refreshing to see a version of the north-east far removed from the cash-strapped likes of Purely Belter and Like Father, The One and Only goes too far in the other direction.

Despite the visible landmarks (and the title’s in-joke nod to local brew Newcastle Brown Ale, a reference of which the film-makers may or may not be aware) we might as well be back in De Eneste Ene‘s Copenhagen – the film is perhaps all too accurate in its depiction of a relatively bland, characterless north-east. As with Get Carter, the accents are wildly uneven: Hodgson’s Stan, a kind of Rhys Ifanish ghost of Geordie past, is audibly a Teessider, and Waddell not only looks like a very young Geraldine McEwan, she also sounds disconcertingly like her as well.

In fact, it’s Aussie Roxburgh (the scheming fop Duke in Moulin Rouge!) who, of all the principals, makes the most convincing north-easterner, despite the fact that his own origins like much closer to Newcastle, New South Wales. He gives a thoroughly engaging, sympathetic performance which is rather classier than this insipid material deserves – The One and Only isn’t so much a film, more a 3m slice of propaganda aimed at bolstering the Gateshead/Newcastle bid for the title of 2008’s European City of Culture. And if this kind of lukewarm, inconsequential movie really is Europe’s idea of culture in the 21st century, we might as well all ‘gan and hoy ourselves off the Tyne Bridge tomorra’ – as they say used to say in Geordieland, a long time ago.

20th October, 2002
(seen 4th, Odeon Mansfield)

by Neil Young