Singer Cilla Black biography tops TV polls – Watch it here.
Over six million people watched the first part of Cilla (ITV) last week – a biopic of singer Cilla Black written by Oscar-winning writer Jeff Pope and starring actress and singer Sheridan Smith. Last night’s second episode was also impressive, even more so for those who tuned in last week out of curiosity and found themselves hooked.
Cilla is a supremely deft piece of mythmaking – not in the sense that any of it is untrue, but in how it strips a life story back to bare essentials and archetypes, and distils every possible drop of romance and nostalgic appeal from it. The result is a simple, very entertaining account of the formation of a national treasure. The Sixties Liverpool/Merseybeat milieu in which Black (born Priscilla White, in 1943) came to prominence is convincingly achieved in Paul Whittington’s atmospheric direction, not least at the celebrated Cavern club where she worked and got her big break thanks to The Beatles, their manager Brian Epstein (Ed Stoppard) and producer George Martin (Elliot Cowan) – all of whom loom large.
This episode focused an entire hour (of a three-hour drama) on the months between her disastrous first audition for Epstein to eventually signing with him and having a No 1 hit with Anyone Who Had a Heart. Barely a moment went by when we weren’t invited to dwell on how cruel fate might have left this Scouse flower to blush unseen had it not been for her raw talent, winning personality and the love of a good man – her late husband Bobby Willis (Aneurin Barnard).
There was a sprinkling of grit. The sectarian divide between Catholics and Protestants in Sixties Liverpool was ramped up to the max in order to threaten Cilla and Bobby’s fledgling romance. And a lorra, lorra laughs, too, mostly at the expense of Cilla’s over-protective yet lovably homely parents (Melanie Hill and John Henshaw).
The only moment of irony came with the realisation that the real star of this show isn’t Cilla Black at all but Sheridan Smith, who not only convinced utterly as “Swingin’ Cilla” the helmet-haired Sixties Liverpool rockette, but undertook all the singing duties herself. Sacrilegious as this may be to some, Smith’s rendition of Anyone Who Had a Heart, which closed last night’s episode on a triumphant high, was if anything more impressive than Black’s own recording, her voice darker, bluesier and better suited to contemporary tastes. It could easily be a hit in its own right.
Watch the show here;