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Meet a girl on a boat, meet a boy on a train …

June 7, 2011
… Talar ni svenska cockney? …


Nineteen year-old lad beds a fifteen year old girl in a Channel Four drama. That wasn’t Brookside. Got your attention? Back in the summer of 1984, it had mine. Usually I hardly saw any television from Thursday night to Sunday night as I was, in the main, out drinking, getting into all manner of scrapes and chasing teenage nubiles myself. But Friday nights in August that year saw our VCR go into action for something other than Match of the Day or football hooliganism footage on the news.

Annika was a three-part drama that revolved around the romance between cockney deckchair attendant-cum-barman Pete (played by Jesse Birdsall) and 15 year-old Swedish language student Annika (Christina Rigner) on the Isle of Wight and then later in Stockholm after Pete followed Annika back to her homeland. Prior to transmission, the guardians of the country’s moral virtues that are our tabloid press worked themselves up into a right old lather about the scenes of under-age sex and nudity, hence just about every male between the ages of 12 and 24 who wasn’t hanging about in the park or pub, was probably watching it. And it’s possibly why, despite never appearing in anything else, Christina Rigner is still firmly stuck in my 1984 memory bank alongside such goddesses as Susan Sulley, the sadly late Suzanne Mizzi and the beauty who filled an Ellesse tennis dress quite like no-one else – Andrea Temesvari ……  

The recent dvd release of Annika has received a number of harsh reviews on various internet blogs and websites. Was it really as good as I remembered or not? Having now watched it again, I’d say maybe not but it was still well worth the 150 minutes of my time finding out one way or the other. What did surprise me was how much I had forgotten about it. Both Birdsall and Vas Blackwood as his best mate are superb in their roles – Blackwood has never received the proper kudos his acting ability merited down the years in my opinion. A scene where the time difference really hits home is one where Birdsall calls him a “nigger” during an argument. At the time I hardly noticed it but nearly thirty years on it stands out like an anachronistic sore thumb. I’d also forgotten all about the Swedish lad who looked like a stylists model for A-Ha getting chased all over Ryde by skins in Union Jack t-shirts, Don Henderson playing Birdsall’s dad, Vas Blackwood porting a pair of Diadora Borg Elite and just how crap an actress the lovely Christina Rigner actually was. Director and co-writer Colin Nutley cast her after trailing all over Swedish schools looking for the right girl for the part but, aside of scenes involving crying, at times she gives a passable impression of Sven Goran Eriksson guest starring in The Woodentops.

For all the media hype at the time and the comparisons of the differing British and Scandinavian attitudes to teenage sex, Annika was ultimately a tale of two teenagers falling in love and trying to make it work against all the odds but with an all-too-predictable outcome. It wasn’t the Capulets versus Montagues or Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. It was a 1980s love story set against a backdrop of drinking, parties, fighting, youth unemployment and trying to make something out of your life. And if you’d ever been in love yourself, it struck a chord in a manner Roddy Frame would have been proud of …..


Shaun Smith


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