BBC America’s “White Heat” is a sobering trip to the past

The name of the miniseries may riff on the Velvet Underground, but Dramaville: White Heat itself seems to arrive at the mid-’60s via an ’80s vehicle, The Big Chill. Starting in the present day, this six-part story, premiering May 9 at 10pm ET/PT, centers on a group of friends reuniting after one of them commits suicide.

You don’t know who the deceased is. Told in flashback, White Heat traces the original diverse group of seven as they meet as flatmates in London’s Tufnell Park in 1965. They establish themselves as a sort of commune under the idiosyncratic direction of Jack (Sam Claflin). Jack is the hard-core idealist of the group — the one with posters of Malcolm X and Che Guevara in his room, the one who smokes a lot of weed, and the one whose father is a Member of Parliament. Charlotte (Claire Foy) is the one who caught Jack’s eye, and who, like all of the others in the flat back then, was trying to find herself and her place in the ever-changing, tumultuous times of their world. Over the years, they and the rest of the flatmates make life-changing decisions about themselves, and we see them struggle together and apart. And as you see in the short returns to the present day, episode by episode, other flatmates show up, gradually leading you to the knowledge of who it is who has died.

The mood of White Heat is a mix of wistful nostalgia imbued with regret, anger and a lingering shadow of finality. Love, lost identity and betrayal are at the heart of it all, and while it is easy to point to The Big Chill as a starting point, White Heat suggests something else. Youth always implies the possibility of the years ahead, but this is a reverie pretty consistently filled with as much pain as idealism, and while the good moments provide that whiff of nostalgia that’s bound to come with any survey of the past, as the Velvet Underground-referenced name White Heat suggests, this isn’t an elegy for the lost ’60s of flowers and love — it’s something much colder and real.


Photo: © ITV