August 12, 2014 11:25 AM EDT

In Dennis Potter’s masterwork miniseries, novelist Philip Marlow (Michael Gambon) lies in a hospital bed with a crippling skin condition, mentally reworking a pulp detective story while thinking back to his troubled childhood in wartime England. As the detective story (whose protagonist is also called Philip Marlow) and real-life story unfold, characters from Marlow’s inner and outer worlds begin to mingle, as the figures from his past become conflated with the characters they inspired, as well as with people from Marlow’s present life. Mixing fact and fiction, past and present, dream and waking life in an inspired modernist welter — along with 1940s’ musical production numbers—this daring dramatization of the subconscious puts Ally McBeal’s dancing baby to shame.

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