Review: Flesh & Bone

Starz’s ballet miniseries reaches opening night


Flesh and Bone was originally conceived as a regular series, before Starz decided they wanted a miniseries instead. That explains the various hanging threads and storylines that feel like they barely got going, even as the final credit rolled. Alas, we’ll never know what came of the child sex slaves on Sergei’s yacht, or why Paul periodically throws eggs at a tombstone, or whether Jessica’s embezzling will catch up with her.

That the cast can really dance has never been in doubt, but what the finale did give us was our first full-scale performance. They’ve been killing themselves over the choreography all season, and the end results were suitably impressive. (Having said that, I’m not at all convinced I’d be able to spot the difference between an excellent ballet dancer and an average one; or an edgy, modern piece and a classical one, but there you go.)

After eight hours though, beyond acknowledging she can dance, I’m still not convinced I feel much of anything about Claire. It’s not just that she’s cold and closed-off and distant; it’s that she’s so passive as to be wallpaper. Things happen to her. She’s supposed to be part delicate ingénue, part super determined glass-chewing ballet warrior, but it too often comes off as empty. Even her big ‘no’ at the end isn’t as satisfying as it should be.

The role feels like it was crafted to within an inch of its life, in order to give Sarah Hay, excellent dancer but first time actor, as controlled a range of things to do as is physically possible for a show’s lead. You can understand why, but it doesn’t make the sense of wanting to shake some life into Claire any less acute.

Show creator Moira Walley-Beckett previously wrote and produced Breaking Bad, a show that could have sat literally any character in a room for an hour and produced something worth watching. Sit Claire in a room, and you get the impression she’d just stare at the wall.

That’s the price for casting dancers. The trade-off, of course, is that the ballet sequences are for real

The show felt its most dynamic, and most alive, whenever Paul (House of Cards’ Ben Daniels) stepped on screen to chew through his flock, but it also made the gulf between the actors and non-actors more apparent. His character felt more ambitious, the acting more assured; you could feel the confidence of the writers in giving him bigger emotional arcs, and generally more interesting stuff to do.

That’s the price for casting dancers. The trade-off, of course, is that the ballet sequences are for real. There’s no lighting trickery, no clever cutting to match an actor’s head to a double’s body, no dodgy moves that we just have to pretend are gasp-inducing.

Ultimately Claire does just enough to miss out on being the show’s most frustrating characters. That honour belongs to Romeo, who, already three quirks past a Mighty Boosh sketch, wakes up – no typo – in a canoe full of bottle caps; applies war paint from a cork; sews said bottle cap collection into a suit of armour and charges off to kill (please stop calling her) Clementine’s brother. He’s the kind of aww-isn’t-he-adorable crazy homeless person that surely only exists on TV.

The big swings are the hardest to land, but they’re also why we end up with Game of Thrones

We’re so spoilt by the never-ending parade of amazing shows that it’s easy to forgot how much skill and luck they require, and for all its flaws, Flesh and Bone can’t be criticised for lacking ambition. The big swings are the hardest to land, but they’re also why we end up with Game of Thrones.

There’s enough to like about Flesh and Bone to render it more than watchable for eight episodes. It’s well directed, often well written, the dancing can be riveting, and there’s enough incest to make a Lannister jealous. In fits and spurts – and as evidenced by Black Swan – it’s clear that the twisted, competitive ballet world is ripe for dark drama. There’s probably a great version of this show. Flesh and Bone merely commits the sin of being pretty good.


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