Poetic Television: BBC’s The Song Of Lunch

The short film stars Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson and is based on a narrative poem by Christopher Reid.

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The BBC short film The Song of Lunch finally aired on PBS this week. Did you see it? No? That’s understandable; among the rest of television’s Dancing with Celebrity Housewives offerings, a 48-minute film based on a narrative poem can be easily overlooked. Never fear, you can watch the entire thing here (or on PBS’ website).

The Song of Lunch stars Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as former flames who haven’t seen each other for 15 year but who, on Rickman’s instigation, meet for lunch. The film, which aired last year in Britain but recently came stateside as part of PBS’ “Masterpiece Contemporary” series, is based on Christopher Reid’s poem by the same name. Reid’s poem, in turn, is inspired by a pub scene in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Song of Lunch uses elegantly simple language—wine is “dark, sluggish ink” and pizza, “a wheel of gluten-smothered dough singed at the rim”—as it explores the passage of time and our inability to hold onto the past (or in this case, a past love) no matter how hard we try.

Maybe I’m a sucker for the Rickman-Thompson pairings (their troubled marriage is by far my favorite relationship in Love, Actually), but I found Song of Love to be surprisingly realistic, even given its literary flourishes. Rickman’s character drinks too much because he feels inferior, and Thompson is kind but so distant—“the scuffle and clack of her cutlery send out signals not difficult to interpret”—that you wonder, as she must, why she even agreed to the lunch at all.

There is no fight in Song of Love, no grand re-kindling of long-dormant feelings. Instead, it’s about two people who once knew each other very well meeting again to discover that they no longer know each other at all.

(MORE: Top 10 Date-Specific Songs)