My Review of ‘The Singing Detective’ (1986)


Today I’m reviewing a show that actually originated on the BBC. Although a movie was made based on this show, I have yet to see it. However, this show (which was essentially a miniseries) impressed me so much that I feel it’s well worth watching. Especially if you’re a film noir fan.


It’s about a mystery writer who is suffering on two fronts: from writer’s block and a horrible disease called psoriatic arthropathy, a chronic skin and joint disorder. Having discovered that the show was written by Dennis Potter, a man who actually suffered from that condition, made me all the more empathetic to the protagonist’s plight.


In many respects though, Marlow (and that’s his name—Philip E. Marlow!) is a tough protagonist to warm up to, as he’s a stubborn man who refuses medication. As a result, he not only suffers constant pain, but experiences hallucinations in which his own Raymond Chandler-influenced novel, The Singing Detective, plays out as a bizarre musical about a detective named Philip Marlow who sings at a dance hall and takes on work “the guys who don’t sing” won’t do.

The plot is as convoluted as any hard-boiled mystery you’d want to read. We see the world from Marlow’s point of view, which presents it in a crazy kaleidoscope of images that include flashbacks to his childhood, scenes at the hospital where the doctors and nurses engage in song and dance, parts of his own novel, and images of England during World War II. The real and fictional overlap, as people from one sometimes interact with characters from the other.

It’s hard for me to sum up in a few words why I love this miniseries so much. Perhaps because I’m a fan of film noir and there were shades of parody to the show. But more than that I think it expressed much of the suffering that the writer (Dennis Potter) himself experienced. And for that reason, along with its truly innovative approach to storytelling, this show really got under my skin (no pun intended).

If you haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend it! Two thumbs up!

Hand showing thumbs up. All on white background.

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