Exile is a 2011 two-part television drama by Paul Abbott and Danny Brocklehurst. It is available on DVD in both region 1/NTSC (America) and region 2/PAL (UK). It’s also available for rent from Facets.
You know you’re in for a treat when you learn that you’ve got John Simm and Olivia Colman playing siblings with Jim Broadbent playing their father. Simm, who would win a BAFTA for his role in Exile, had just come off filming Mad Dogs, which he had done immediately after playing Hamlet in the West End. It was time for a break. But then a script came across his desk–a script that described the main character Tom as “a rough-looking John Simm”–that he couldn’t pass up. He couldn’t bear watch another actor in the role he wanted so badly.
Simm plays Tom Ronstadt, a journalist who has screwed up his life so badly, he comes crawling back to the family he walked out on when he was a teenager. His sister Nancy (Colman) is on her own taking care of her father Sam Ronstadt (Broadbent), a famous retired journalist deep in Alzheimer’s. Nancy is relieved for a chance to share the duties of caring for a man who spends most of his time shouting at people who aren’t there, slapping people, or dropping trou at inappropriate moments (be it at the lawyer’s office or in front of Nancy’s new boyfriend). However, she doesn’t expect Tom to pick up the trail of a long abandoned story his father had been on–the case that had caused Tom to run out on his family in the first place. The more layers Tom peels back, the darker the secrets of the local government get and the more Tom learns about his family and himself. Some secrets are best kept buried.
Exile is beautifully shot in the Manchester suburbs, near where John Simm grew up. In the making-of feature on the DVD, he recalls that he’d always remembered the area as bleak, but when he and his wife (Kate Magowan, who is also in the film) went up to film there, she noticed how beautiful the area was, giving Simm a new perspective on his hometown.
It’s a journalist/corruption story, like State of Play, but it also has this added family element and a look inside what it’s like to care for someone with Alzheimer’s. Broadbent’s character has good moments when he’s lucid, bad moments when he lashes out in frustration, and funny moments, all of which are real aspects of living with someone with Alzheimer’s. Tom struggles between the real world (a world in which people can change and there’s no such thing as good and evil) and the version of reality his father had taught him: There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil (a Walter Lippmann quote). Tom spends the film seeking out the devil to restore order to the universe, but it won’t bring his father back.
Verdict: Exile is a higher quality production than many of these mystery TV dramas.