He’s out of prison and bent on revenge.
Broadcast during a fortnight to high ratings, the excellent British series Out makes it over the ocean where we get to see criminal Frank Ross deal with one of the oldest stories man tells, one of revenge.
After Frank Ross (Tom Bell, Love Me Still) is nicked and sent away, he’s sprung eight years later and all he cares about is finding out who grassed him. For those of us on this side of the pond, that means Frank’s determined to find the guy who ratted him out and put him in prison.
Out works on both a textual and subtextual level. There’s a scene early on where Frank’s given a welcome home party after getting out of prison (ah, the ’70s!), and — without a word of dialogue — it’s clear exactly what everyone’s relationship is to Frank. We know instantly who he’s never met, who’s a little too happy to see him, who’s pretending to be happy, and so on. The series is filled with scenes like this, which makes it impossible to walk away from. This isn’t something you can put on and then dust the room or fold laundry. If so, you’ll certainly miss something. Relying solely on what you hear will force you to play catch up.
When you consider Out was made in the late ’70s, you have to give the series its due. This was one of the first of its kind to make a story about a gangster with a family, from a gangster’s perspective. What’s more it was groundbreaking for showcasing issues like mental health and homosexuality without making a big fuss about them, though it does date the story.
The show succeeds on the caliber of its acting. Tom Bell sells the character of Frank Ross from frame one and never lets go. Surrounded by equally able-bodied performers all of whom inhabit their characters well, none shine as brightly as Bell.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, I’m giving a pass to any problems with this transfer, simply because they state up front such issues do exist. As it is, aside from a scratch here or there, visual defects are rare. The Dolby 2.0 stereo track is basic and a bit hard to follow, but only due to my weak grasp of British slang. Thankfully, we have English SDH subtitles.
The only bonus feature are commentary tracks on the first and final episodes, providing an interesting mix of film history, memories of the late Tom Bell, and the details on shooting of the series. If you can get past the fact that these guys don’t believe women should be making television or film, they’re a decent listen.
Out is not a show to absorb from a 21st century perspective. The decision to tell this story in six hour segments does not work in today’s landscape; it simply needs more time to grow. As it stands, the narrative is too clunky and open-ended for today’s viewers. That said, it could make a great taut movie or a nice multi-season series.
The choice to veer off into momentary glimpses of Frank’s friends’ lives adds nothing substantial to the overall story, and only lends minuscule touches to Frank’s already well-solidified character. Today’s audiences would want to spend time with the villains of the piece, whose lives carry both weight and meaning for the plot and Frank’s life.
Though it may sound harsh, my intentions are a complimentary. I enjoyed these characters so much I left wishing we had more time with them all, wanting inhabit their world for more than just the brief glimpse we are afforded.
A fine example of late ’70s British television, gangster tales, and exceptional performances. If you accept that Out is very much a product of its era, you’ll truly enjoy it.