1986 six part miniseries written by Dennis Potter and directed by Jon Amiel, co-produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC.
Michael Gambon stars as a Philip Marlowe. He is in a hospital bed suffering from a crippling attack of psoriatic arthritis. As he struggles with his illness, he concentrates on a mental rewrite of his early novel, "The Singing Detective" putting himself in the title role. His mind drifts into a drug-induced surreal fantasy of spies, crimes and childhood memories as songs from the 1940s drift into his mind. Most of the action takes place in Marlow's mind as four overlapping stories weave together, and are given equal weight (you're never sure which scenes are hallucinations and which are reality): Marlow, present day, in the hospital, coping with his pain; Marlow as a nine year old boy in 1945 discovering his mother's infidelity; Marlow in the novel as a crooning sleuth tracking Nazi spies; and a present day paranoid delusion that Marlow's wife is selling the rights to the Singing Detective novel to Hollywood. Actors appear in more than one storyline, adding to the confusion of characters (but remaining true to the workings of the human mind). The stories interweave as Marlow goes on a Freudian journey to exorcise his soul of his guilt, betrayal, and sexual dysfunction.
Gambon's performance is a triumph of damaged humanity, sputtering with pain and rage yet retaining the sardonic wordliness of an impresario. At one level The Singing Detective is a masterpiece of pastiche, mixing an elegant cocktail of film noir, hospital drama and nostalgic musical....
The Singing Detective offers a combination of elegant illusion and lacerating humour that recalls the satires of Swift. The only remedy for the ills of the yahoos was a mixture of their own dung and urine put forcibly down their throats. Sweetened by Cole Porter and soured by Raymond Chandler, Potter offers us a dose of the same.
David Nokes, The Times Literary Supplement
A critical as well as commercial
success, the original broadcast
on the BBC garnered 8 million viewers. The cast includes strong performances by Alison Steadman and Bill Paterson, and a pre-Val Kilmer
Joanne Whalley as a nurse, who also becomes the
girl-- the one that's mentioned in all the old songs.