Sweet respite from the in-your-face violence on TV

JANE BOWRON
Last updated 07:10 27/06/2014
Rhys Ifans

MIXED BLESSING: Rhys Ifans plays a man whose contact with sickly person leaves him with an affliction while they heal.

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If you're looking for a safe harbour, a respite from the put-your-hands-over-your-eyes violence of dramas such as American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Utopia, etc, then check out the Arts Channel's current Playhouse series.

Take Gifted (Arts Channel, Thursday, 8.30pm) where Welsh actor Rhys Ifans plays Michael, a man cursed with a crippling condition which makes it impossible for him to have close contact with another human.

At first we imagine he's just another OCD sufferer or a neurotic in the Michael Jackson style, wearing gloves to avoid catching something unsavoury. Michael appears to be a slave to routine, waking each morning at the same time to down a rattle of pills before covering his suit with one of those white forensic CSI, Silent Witness overalls.

At work he literally bumps into employee Mona, a young woman played by that annoying and ubiquitous actress Sarah Smart. She's bleeding from the nose and in the ensuing collision Michael, too, appears to have a bleeding nose as hers stops.

Michael's curse or "gift" - hence the title - is that any close contact with a sickly person leaves him with their affliction while they heal. We seem him brush shoulders with a man sporting a sling which leaves Michael with a sprained arm. When he was younger, Michael was more robust but now he's slower to mend, he confides to Mona, who it turns out has a terminally ill daughter.

Michael falls for Mona, losing his virginity to her at an office party, while back at home his mother collapses with cancer and is carted off to hospital. He can't risk visiting her, much to the disgust of his sister who is unaware of Michael's condition.

Tired of his hands-off existence, Michael meets Mona's daughter and takes her hand in full knowledge of the outcome. Mona's been watching Michael at work, noting how he picks up any illness that's doing the rounds and guesses his predicament, even though no such condition exists. Even though Michael is aware of Mona's base intent, his interaction with her appears to release him from the confinement of his self- containment. He goes for broke, visiting his mother in hospital, tenderly embracing her before walking down the ward, touching all the patients as their health instantly rallies.

Michael's sadness lifts and he appears content to be the healer as he sits alone in the city, smiling sadly while watching cable cars drift past in a London sky line. The story lacks real punch, the karma is lousy, but the story has a welcome sweetness to it and Rhys Ifans' gentlemanly performance establishes him as Wales' answer to Bill Nighy.

ONE TO WATCH

Bear Grylls, Kirsten Dunce and Dawn French tonight on The Graham Norton Show, TV3, 8.30pm.

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- The Dominion Post

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