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» » A Number (2008)

Short summary

When Salter's son, Bernard, is told that he's a result of a cloning experiment, he finds out that he's one of an unknown number of human clones. He confronts his father and demands an explanation. Why was he created? Is he an original or a copy? Salter tries to explain the background for the experiment to his shocked son.

User reviews


  • comment
    • Author: unmasked
    I must say I really only watched this programme for Tom Wilkinson, although the premise was intriguing, with the idea that a man finds out he is a clone & that there are other copies of him walking around, & the confrontation with his father about what happened. And despite a decent storyline, right from the start it was clear it was originally for the stage, with the dialogue very much in the style of a David Mamet play (Oleanna springs to mind), with the progression & dialogue unclear in many places.

    The performances however can't be faulted, with excellent performances from Rhys Ifans & Tom Wilkinson, however perhaps the script would've been better adapted for television than taken directly from the play.
  • comment
    • Author: Giamah
    A man discovers that there are other versions of himself out in the real world – clones that were generated from an original, which may or may not have been him. He confronts his father to find out how and why this could have happened and learns of a son that was killed many years ago – after the man's wife had died. The father discusses these things with him and, inevitably, has cause to have further such conversations with other copies that start to come out of the woodwork.

    A Number was shown in a slot on BBC2 that had previously shown other one-off plays and dramas that had gotten good press, so, as part of recording/watching those I also put this film on my HDR for a later date. That date came round recently and I was intrigued to see what the film would be about. I gather that others were hoping for some split-screen stuff with the multiple clones interacting with one another but for me I was concerned that this would produce a gimmick and hoped it wouldn't be that way. That was how it played out and indeed it is only the final few minutes that we get a shot of the multiple clones all hanging around in one place – and, as I suspected, it does feel a little gimmicky in how it is done. These are two minutes though, leaving another 58 to do something else and it was this majority of the film that appealed to me.

    Unsurprisingly (as it was a play) the film works best as an actor's film as it gives three or four enclosed scenes that are emotionally charged and delivered in tight locations that allow for the two actors to focus on their characters and their interactions more than movement or camera locations. In this regard it does really work as both Wilkinson and Ifans are excellent. Ifans appeared to have the better of it by having more varied characters as well as the gimmick effect of playing versions of himself but as the film went on the real impact came from Wilkinson. Because his character is constant throughout it allows him to react and develop his character over time in a way that Ifans doesn't have – he just has step changes as he moves between characters. Both performances are strong then and this makes it more of a shame that the material is not quite as engaging or compelling as I would have liked. Any specific dialogue scene tends to work pretty well by giving the actors plenty to work with in that moment but it is in the bigger picture that the script disappoints. We understand from it what happens to each clone that we have just met and we get the sense of time passing but the bigger picture never engaged or played out for me in the way that I wanted it to. It is a shame because Wilkinson is the main driver for the film being able to do it and his performance is there for the taking – problem is that the script doesn't link the scenes as well as I would have liked and doesn't play to the heart of the piece in the way that it does play to the heart of any specific scene.

    A Number is still interesting and engaging though because each self-contained scene is tightly filmed and really well acted – with Wilkinson specifically doing great work across the film. The script is strongest in the moment but doesn't manage to totally work on the bigger level of the whole film. Still worth seeing for the performances but slightly disappointing for what it doesn't manage to do.
  • comment
    • Author: Samugor
    A Number is a clever play, so you can see why someone would think it was a good idea to transfer it into a TV piece.

    The experiment works in some respect. Tom Willkinson is good in his role, giving Salter all the qualities that make us want to like him and loath him all at the same time.

    Rhys Ifan's is the real revelation though, playing his multiple roles with skill and ease.

    The real thing that this piece comes down to though is whether you can put up with the slow pace of the whole thing or whether Carol Churchill's decision to leave so many sentences unanswered or spoken over. It's a good technique but one that grates after a while.

    I didn't hate 'A Number' but it certainly didn't make me want to watch it again.
  • comment
    • Author: Dagdage
    I saw the photo in a magazine of a huge family of clones and the father, and thought this might be quite an interesting one-off drama, it turns out it wasn't what I had in mind at all, based on the play by Caryl Churchill. Basically Rhys Ifans (presumably the real one) comes home to his father Tom Wilkinson explaining about "a number! of clones roaming the streets, and the father insists there was only meant to be one. He reveals Ifans was created from the DNA of his former body, after he was killed somehow, and Wilkinson had him copied for the same son instead of tyring for a new child, he wasn't expecting the experts to make more than one, that wasn't in the deal. This one-hour drama is mainly just lots of chatting between Ifans and Wilkinson, you only see all the clones at the end when they are having a family get together, and then pose for that photo obviously. Not much action or spectacle, but I can imagine that is what is the stage play was like, simple, but with some good dialogue quite effective. Good!
  • comment
    • Author: Terr
    (I guess I have included some spoiler-like elements)Having seen the Churchill play before an, I suppose, having an eye for setting or camera angles, this adaptation reminded me a lot of certain (low budget, I guess) BBC2/Channel TV dramas from the '80s/'90s which dealt with serious, current issues but nearly always in a harrowing or austere setting, and left me, as a younger man confused and isolated. Strangely as an older man (and I am struck by the focus on patriarchy in this movie, right down to the very last shot depicting the father holding (presumably) a grandchild, a child of one of his cloned sons, all the way to this urgency in older men to apologise for wrongs done). I have it 8/10 for the superb performances of the two venerable actors, the honest if stark adherence to the original play, but ultimately for (and some reviewers said they disliked it after a while) the very realistic talking over which occurs in those "serious conversations" in families where an observer would be forgiven for thinking nobody was listening to anybody else...but this is how man families interact. I found myself empathising with the father/perpetrator but also hating him in equal measures. The three "clones" we encounter seem to reflect the shock, anger, incredulity I would imagine anybody would experience when encountering such a revelation. It was certainly dramatic and very definitely emerging from theatre and perhaps this is why some reviewers were either apathetic or openly scornful, but this is precisely why I've enjoyed it a few times now. Definitely one for a film studies course as opposed to chatting enthusiastically about it in a cafe until 3am.
  • Credited cast:
    Rhys Ifans Rhys Ifans - Salter's Sons
    Tom Wilkinson Tom Wilkinson - Salter
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