The late Dennis Potter was a master at mining the popular songs of the 1930s and '40s for dramatic effect, but he never did it better than in The Singing Detective. The inestimable Michael Gambon plays a mystery writer named Philip E Marlow, who is suffering a torturous bout of psoriatic arthritis in hospital, where he is a victim of both his disease and the National Health Service. Unable to move without pain, he escapes into his imagination, plotting out a murder tale in which he is both a big-band singer and a private eye. But Potter and director Jon Amiel also mix in flashbacks of Marlow's youth and his unhappy marriage to explain how the real Marlow reached this sorry pass. Flawlessly, intricately, kaleidoscopically assembled, the six one-hour episodes fly by like some fantastic fever dream. Marshall Fine
The story of The Singing Detective unfolds in three time periods: a 1980s hospital ward, The Forest of Dean (and later London) in the 1930s and a film-noir fantasy London of the 1940s. The link between these 'worlds' and the protagonist of the story is Philip Marlow, the writer recovering from psoriasis in the hospital. The story follows his recovery from his skin condition and parallel assimilation of a childhood trauma he suffered in the 1930s. The Forest of Dean parts of the story are Marlow's childhood memories. The young Philip, it is revealed, witnessed his mother's adultery with Raymond Binney and took revenge upon his backward son Mark by implicating him for a schoolroom crime he committed. The film-noir fantasy is from a novel he wrote entitled The Singing Detective in which the character, Mark Binney, hires the help of the detective, Philip Marlow, to help him escape being framed for a murder.