Nolly TV review: Helena Bonham Carter's 'perfect' portrayal of soap star Noele Gordon

Nolly, ITVX, review by Yvette Huddleston

In recent times Helena Bonham Carter has taken on a whole raft of meaty roles portraying formidable older women – they include Princess Margaret in The Crown and Elizabeth Taylor in Burton & Taylor – and now she adds soap star Noele Gordon to her canon.

Gordon played the pivotal role of Meg Mortimer in the long-running early evening series Crossroads which ran from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. Set in a motel on the outskirts of Birmingham, it was known as much as anything for its wobbly sets and wooden acting – it is said to have been Victoria Wood’s inspiration for her hilarious spoof soap Acorn Antiques – and Gordon was the magnificent centre of it all. She pretty much held the whole thing together and was hugely popular at the time. Then suddenly, with very little notice and no explanation, she was sacked in 1981. There was uproar from the fans and it made newspaper headlines – some thought it was a cynical move to boost ratings but the real reason remained unclear.

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This affectionate three-part tribute to Gordon, known as ‘Nolly’ to her friends and fans, from acclaimed screenwriter Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Years and Years, It’s a Sin) focusses on that unsettling period in her life and it is top-notch entertainment from start to finish. Bonham Carter gives a perfect portrayal of hauteur and kindness, steeliness and vulnerability. Dressed in a fur and dark glasses as befits the queen of daytime television, she gets chauffeured around in her Rolls Royce – yet she always has time for her fans.

Helena Bonham Carter as Noele Gordon in Nolly. Picture: ©ITV/PAHelena Bonham Carter as Noele Gordon in Nolly. Picture: ©ITV/PA
Helena Bonham Carter as Noele Gordon in Nolly. Picture: ©ITV/PA

Davies also provides some insight into Gordon’s life and achievements beyond the limits of Crossroads. She was the first woman to have appeared on colour television, was an accomplished stage actor and had a broadcasting career as a producer and presenter which included helping to launch ATV in the 1950s and interviewing the then prime minister Harold McMillan. She also had a long-lasting affair with a married man which left her heartbroken – and, she informs awed younger cast members, she knew how to fly a plane.

In the second episode there is a brilliant turn from Mark Gatiss as Gordon’s close friend Larry Grayson. The scenes between Grayson and Gordon – two ageing showbiz troopers fondly reminiscing, aware that their best days are behind them – are full of poignancy, skilfully written by Davies and beautifully played by Gatiss and Bonham Carter. A wonderfully nostalgic, but not sentimental, treat.

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