“The Black bird has landed”
It’s only taken me, ooh, a couple of years to get round to watching Cilla, a 2014 ITV miniseries written by Jeff Pope, in which time the small matter of Cilla Black’s passing has made it a more poignant piece. My main reason for watching though, its arrival on Netflix aside, was to finally catch up with Sheridan Smith’s portrayal of the Liverpudlian light entertainment behemoth, back in the days when she was just a Scouse lass called Priscilla White.
Pope’s script definitely has a touch of the rose-tinted about it but there’s no denying the amazing energy of Liverpool’s music scene in the 1960s that comes across in the first two episodes. Though she has a job as a typist – her mother proudly proclaims “the first in the family to be considered suitable for office work” – Cilla dreams of being a singer and is making quite the name for herself on the club circuit, building a following through club performances with upcoming bands such as a quartet called The Beatles.
The drama covers most of Black’s career in the 60s – from those days in the Cavern to being signed up by Brian Epstein and beginning a hugely successful UK music career. And it is hugely elevated by a stunning performance from Smith, who sings all of Cilla’s songs with pitch-perfect passion but also thoroughly embodies the thrill of being on the edge of breaking through, the despair of thinking everything has been ruined, the life-changing exuberance of becoming a star.
It’s the perfect reminder of just how good an actress Sheridan Smith is, away from recent difficulties that have sadly dominated coverage of her, and she is hugely, thoroughly, likable here. She’s given great support by Aneurin Barnard as the ever-faithful Bobby, the songwriter, road manager and would-be love interest by her side, and Ed Stoppard as Epstein, the insightful manager guiding her career to ever-higher heights even as the closeted dalliances of his private life take a serious toll. A most enjoyable watch.