Shooting the Past (TV Episode)

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Shooting the Past

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Plot

This 1999 British film pits idealistic overseers of a London photography collection against a pragmatic American entrepreneur exercising his right to evict them from a mansion he has purchased. The photo collection is one of the world's largest, containing ten million pictures which the staff files, maintains, and rents to various media. From an aesthetic standpoint, the collection -- dating all the way back to the beginning of photography in the 19th century -- is priceless. The key question is what will happen to it, for wealthy American businessman Christopher Anderson (Liam Cunningham) owns not only the building, but also the collection itself. After announcing plans to remodel the mansion into a state-of-the-art business school, he threatens to destroy all but the most valuable photographs because there's no time, according to his rat-race schedule, to find a new repository for them. Feisty curator Marilyn Truman (Lindsay Duncan) and her eccentric assistant, Oswald Bates (Timothy Spall), then hatch plots to thwart his plans. First, they "mislay" a selection of highly valuable photographs. When that stratagem doesn't work, Truman persuades Anderson to look at several stacks of the ordinary, less valuable photographs. These photographs turn out to be extraordinary. One set tells the poignant story of a Jewish family victimized by the holocaust. The images impress Anderson, but he refuses to alter his plans. Then Bates launches an ingenious scheme. Using his incredible "photographic" memory, he selects a few startling photos from among the millions -- photos that have a connection to Anderson's past. These photographs, and the secrets they hold, stun Anderson while demonstrating the variety and vastness of the collection. Will he alter his plans to save the collection? Meanwhile, Bates, believing his scheme has failed, attempts suicide, and the final moments of the film reveal whether Bates and the photos will survive. ~ Mike Cummings, Rovi

Review

This made-for-TV British film succeeds in its intriguing character portrayals and animated dialogue, as well as its overall message that the world's artistic heritage must not fall victim to economic progress. Sadly, just when the plot gels and the characters crackle with charisma, the motion picture bogs down in a tedious labyrinth of details about the film's central focus: a London collection of ten million prize photographs jeopardized by American entrepreneur Christopher Anderson's takeover of the building housing the photographs. British actor Liam Cunningham performs capably as the no-nonsense Anderson, although his overly flat imitation of an American accent sometimes annoys. Lindsay Duncan has just the right stuff in her depiction of the curator of the photo collection, the late-fortyish but still attractive Marilyn Truman. Duncan is alternately leather-tough and goose-down soft as she shifts from one strategy to the next to persuade Anderson to alter his plans. Perhaps the best performance in the film is that of Timothy Spall in the role of Truman's assistant, the rotund eccentric Oswald Bates. Spall plays Bates as a pastry-munching nerd with a flapping belt that mimics the perpetual wag of his tongue. Viewers soon discover that Bates is a man of uncompromising idealism and deep sensitivity, thanks to Spall's ability to exhibit these qualities without announcing or preaching them. Overall, Shooting the Past, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, is a good film, but judicious editing would have made it even better. ~ Mike Cummings, Rovi

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