Under the Age - Formally, this is a throwback to the format of the Half Hour Stories, but in terms of Clarke's confidence, and the material's strength, it's in a different class entirely. It's a chamber piece that's dominated by a weird, abrasive mix of menace and jocularity, with queer bartender Susie dominating his tiny domain in a manner that's both sadistic and oddly defensive. He's a million miles away from any contemporary queer stereotype I can recall, and Paul Angelis delivers one hell of a performance in the role. The short play builds to a shocking, but hardly unexpected, conclusion that makes the character seethingly complicated.
The Love Girl and the Innocent - This Solzhenitsyn adaptation is by several measures Clarke's most ambitious film to date, with a sprawling cast and an alien setting. It's fascinating to watch him deal with this new challenge, but I found it the first film where the paucity of means really harmed the film, and the script was far less attuned to nuances of character than the domestic collaborations he'd been working on. Thus I found it much less engaging than the surrounding films despite some powerful sequences.
Penda's Fen - I'd seen this a long time ago, but I'd forgotten just how delightfully strange it was. Clarke tackles Rudkin's mystic whimsy in a burly, matter-of-fact way, and somehow it works brilliantly alongside the more characteristic Clarkean elements (the deconstruction of a masculine institution; sensitive and nuanced queer characters; yet another bunch of sympathetic and complex Christians).
A Follower for Emily - For all that this looks like a typical, earnestly well-meaning BBC play, the deeper you look the more extraordinary it becomes. Clarke's gaze is continually distracted by everything that's going on around our geriatric lovebirds, and the expected happy ending is flatly refused without being overtly undercut.
(Non-explicit spoilers follow.) The structure is sheer, brutal genius. The film is divided right down the middle into a mismatched pair of standard British dramas about a young girl dealing with the kinds of things young girls in standard British dramas deal with: family strife, school, work, boyfriends. The girl in each half is Diane, but despite a shared spark of playful sarcasm, she's not quite the same character in them. Her character also doesn't quite conform to the standard expectations of standard British dramas about young girls, and some of her behaviour in both the younger and older sections surprises us: a family fight over a misplaced magazine has a striking air of undermotivated acrimony; sincere romantic overtures are met with a weird bitterness. The reasons for this behaviour are buried in the handful of scenes that divide the two halves and which colour every other second of the film in the most astonishing fashion.
The effect is most striking in the second half. My wife wandered in and watched most of this section of the film and had absolutely no idea why I was responding with shudders of dread or suppressed yelps to what appeared to be entirely innocuous exchanges, and had no idea why I found the film so harrowing.