There’s something about watching David Tennant put himself in the naughty corner on a video call to appease a disgruntled Michael Sheen that makes you almost grateful for lockdown. In the BBC’s sharply sardonic new series, Staged, our screen is split between the two actors, who somewhat unflatteringly caricature themselves, skewering their beloved personas from the comfort of their own homes. But staged though it may be, this setup still feels remarkably real. The fiction is their most personal work yet, featuring life behind closed doors, from their furniture to their families and unshaven faces. This dry comedy drinks up the mundanity of everyday existence, putting us on even footing with the famous – this same episode even drops in a casual cameo from Samuel L Jackson, making us feel like part of an impromptu Zoom meeting.
Even when stars aren’t playing themselves, there’s something more authentic about this back-to-basics approach to filmmaking. Strip away the budget, the special effects and elaborate editing and what you are left with are people in their purest form. ITV’s Isolation Stories is the perfect example: this anthology of tales is small in scale but ambitious in scope, tackling the truth of life in lockdown and exposing the invisible vulnerability that has been heightened by the pandemic. Sheridan Smith’s opener is especially raw, offering a virtual window into single motherhood and even a shadowy glimpse of domestic abuse. The content is still scripted and structured, directed remotely and cut into a neat 15-minute parcel. Nonetheless, something about the fact that the actors filmed themselves makes these character studies seem more immediate and in-the-moment.
Even when it comes to the most cutting-edge figures in the art scene, Covid-19 has proven that isolation needn’t mute creativity. Netflix’s short film anthology, Homemade, takes 17 trapped directors and challenges them to use minimal space to maximum effect. The project is overseen by Pablo Lorrain, whose own contribution, compiled of a series of video calls, is easily the most imaginative. Though the Chilean filmmaker is world-renowned, his comic tale proves that any of us can pick up a camera, or even a phone, and create something captivating. His piece makes the viewer feel as though they are part of something private, and as paradoxical as it may be, without our enforced distance, we may never have seen such intimacy on our screens.
Perhaps when we emerge from the induced coma of Covid-19, the film industry will have a greater appreciation for simple storytelling. After all, while flashy cinematography and surround sound may help to create a more immersive experience, lockdown has taught us all too clearly that nothing can match the feeling of a genuine connection.