During busy and stressful times, I like nothing more than to settle down in the evening with some vacuous entertainment on the TV. I mean, I do that all the time anyway, but it’s extra awesome when I need to wind down. In any case, and this will come as a surprise to anyone who thinks all I watch is cop shows and Doctor Who, at these times I have an especially fond appreciation for hammy dramas. This is probably a result of loving all-star cast movies, and is definitely reflected in my love for cheesy Agatha Christie films.
Recently, I purchased on a whim an adaptation of a James Clavell novel, Noble House. Starring Pierce Brosnan, this NBC miniseries was first broadcast in 1988. It concerns Ian Dunross (Brosnan), the owner, or “Taipan” of floundering Hong Kong company, Struan’s, and his attempts to keep it afloat amidst financial attacks from his bitter rival and approaches from an American corporate raider. Struan’s is the ‘Noble House’ of the title – the largest company in Hong Kong – and so the plot plays out against the backdrop of British high society in Hong Kong, with all the class glamour one would expect.
The moment the opening titles of Noble House began, I was reminded of a movie my parents favoured during my childhood. Based on a Barbara Cartland historical romance, A Hazard of Hearts tells a story of diabolically cunning lords, charming and aloof lords, lords with gambling problems, and some beautiful but troubled ladies. Noble House is in the same vein – a melodrama of the level only the 1980s could produce (and this isn’t just indicated by the fact it was clearly produced in an era which still considered the synthesiser to be a legitimate machine for incidental music). Lavish sets and costume design (though not without an unfortunate profusion of clip-on bow ties), extensive location filming, mystery, intrigue, people motivated by economic considerations – it has it all. Heck, even the weather realises its role in Noble House, contributing thunderclaps and rain at appropriately tense moments. So considerate!
The writing and acting is exactly what one would expect from a drama of this calibre. Brosnan strolls through the series as though he is Ian Dunross, being alternately cold and calculating, then shouty and angry, all the while being seriously hot – the man appears to have been brought into this world immaculately dressed. One of the early lines is spoken by leading police inspector, Robert Armstrong (the dependable and reassuringly Scottish Gordon Jackson), to the newly arrived Lincoln Bartlett (Ben Masters), the aforementioned corporate raider. In response to Bartlett’s question of, “What’s that smell?” Armstrong replies, “Oh, that’s Hong Kong’s own – money!” Later on, we see Dunross’s second-in-command, Philip Chen, raise his hands and scream at the Gods, damning his son to hell. John Rhys-Davies (aka Gimli in Lord of the Rings, and Sallah from Indiana Jones) has a menacing charm as aforementioned bitter rival Quillan Gornt, the head of Rothwell-Gornt and villain of the piece. Of course, there’s some not so good writing as well, and it is unfortunately almost all in the hands of the female cast. Bartlett’s vice-president Casey Tcholok (Deborah Raffin) asks him, “I don’t know, but I think there’s something I don’t know. Is there something I don’t know?” I don’t know, Casey, but please, please, stop talking.
The writing can be forgiven, though, when the wider beauty of this work is considered. Though it is almost nearer to high farce than high drama, it feels so genuine! Filmed largely on location in Hong Kong, the creative team here construct a world where even the lounge pianist at a party seems to be in on the intrigue, silencing his exquisite tunes when Gornt walks in to a Struan’s function. Every rich person is clearly more than just rich, instead absolutely dripping with money – lavish houses, Rolls Royces, Bentleys, the largely forgotten 1980s Lagonda, super speedy speed boats. In this world, it’s possible to have everyone of any importance all attending the same shindig on a floating restaurant that catches fire, in which, no joke, almost every single lead character becomes trapped on the top floor. But, this is no bar to awesomeness, and whilst everyone else is screaming and running we see Dunross, Gornt, and Bartlett stroll stoically through a room that is ablaze before jumping overboard. You just don’t see this sort of thing anymore. Downton Abbey ain’t got nothing on this.
Noble House is just one of those shows which hooks you in. From the very beginning, it’s abundantly clear that it will be an enjoyable rollercoaster ride, with the obvious high production values just making it even more of a pleasure to watch. I will definitely be revisiting it before too long, and I would heartily recommend you check it out.