The Durrells (final episode) – ITV 1

Standard

The final episode was about the craziest combination of genres that I’ve ever seen; but somehow it worked, and I’m really going to miss seeing sun, sea and sand on the telly on a Sunday night. We had farce, spoof, poignancy, romance, friendship, tragedy, war and politics … and, of course, sunshine. We aren’t going to see Corfu invaded by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and bombed by the Allies. We aren’t going to see the Nazis massacre Italian POWs and deport Jewish Corfuvians to concentration camps. We aren’t going to see Larry fleeing in a small boat in the middle of the German bombardment, or Margo nearly dying whilst giving birth in a POW camp in Italian-occupied Ethiopia. We left the Durrells and their friends sitting round a picnic table in the sun-kissed sea.  And yet it wasn’t any old picnic – it was marking the end of the idyll, farewell to paradise. And Louisa and Spiros were doomed never to be together – *sob*!

A lot of this episode was old-fashioned slapstick comedy.  Much of it revolved around Larry deciding to put on a stage version of the Odyssey, starring family and friends. But there was a poignancy even to that, with so many of the locals, from a group of monks to Leslie’s ex-girlfriend and the baby she’d had with another man, turning up to say goodbye to the Durrells.  More silliness came when a comedy policeman was pressed into taking part … and yet his role in the episode was serious too, because he’d originally come to the house to confiscate their radio and typewriter, saying that they could be used for propaganda purposes. There was a sense of ‘Allo ‘Allo there. It used to be quite a thing to make fun of the Second World War: I grew up with ‘Allo ‘Allo, and, before that, there was It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. We don’t do it any more, maybe because we talk so much more about the Nazi atrocities than we used to. The policeman’s visit was comedic – and yet it wasn’t, because, as Larry said when he decided to stay on, as a spy, their freedom of expression was being taken away.

Gerry was sad about parting from his animals. And Margo told everyone, including the woman who sold eggs at the market, what she was planning to get up to with her new boyfriend. In the end, she changed her mind. Then her previous boyfriend turned up, in a spoof scene which saw him suddenly sail into view and dive overboard to swim to shore. In another spoof scene, Louisa ran along the beach into Spiros’s arms. But, straight after the silliness of that, we got a genuinely emotional scene in which they talked about how they could never be together. It’s an unusual storyline these days. The expectation now is that people will give up everything to be together – but this was a reminder that this was another time, when ideas of duty and honour and expectations came first. Spiros couldn’t leave his family, nor his country as it faced war.  They kissed on the beach.  And parted.  Saying that it was better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.

It’s rather nice how the big talking point of this series has been a romance between two people in their forties, not two glamorous young things.  There’ve been various romances involving the Durrell children and different partners, but it was Louisa and Spiros we really cared about.  Keeley Hawes as Louisa has been brilliant.

I could have lived without the “We Britons have always been reluctant Europeans” line that some scriptwriter decided to throw into Louisa’s farewell speech to the Durrells’ neighbours. Need the Brexit debate get everywhere?! But the rest of the speech was quite emotional. The end of an idyll. That’s rare, for something set in the 1930s. There’s long been this idea that the years leading up to the First World War were a golden age, but the 1930s, the Depression, are generally seen as anything but …. but we don’t normally get the aforementioned sun, sea and sand to accompany the stories of financial hardship. The Durrells had had their heads in the sand, ignoring the Italian invasion of nearby Albania and the storm clouds gathering over the rest of Europe. Then Louisa had received a telegram saying that Basil, the cousin who’d had an unconvincing affair with Spiros’s wife in a bizarre attempt to push Spiros further into Louisa’s arms, had been killed in Albania because he was British. And she’d realised that it was time to go.

It’d all wandered a long way from Gerald Durrell’s memoirs. And a lot of it was a bit too slapstick. But it was good. It was cheerful. It brightened up our screens. It wasn’t preceded by a warning that it contained scenes which some viewers might find distressing, or followed by a list of helplines for viewers to call if they’d been affected by issues raised. But it had to end, because, as has happened so often throughout history, the lives of people peacefully minding their own business, with their families and friends, were torn apart by war.  Unlike The Chalet School in Exile or The Sound of Music, the threat of war didn’t get too close – apart from poor old Basil, whom everyone actually seemed to forget about after five minutes.  We didn’t even see any Fascists or any Nazis.  But we knew what was coming.  And left it before it got there.

Goodbye, The Durrells!  You will be missed.  Victoria and Pose have also both finished this week.  I’ll miss them too.  They’ve both been much better than The Durrells, really.  But I’m really going to miss that hour of sweetness and silliness in the sun between 8 and 9 on a Sunday evening!

 

 

Advertisements

Victoria (series 3) – ITV 1

Standard

Oh dear. This was all very dramatic, and made for entertaining Sunday night TV; but it completely misrepresented the Chartist movement, Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria’s relationship with her half-sister, and even the sort of clothing worn by the little princes. I’m rather annoyed about the portrayal of the peaceful Chartists as a baying mob hammering on the gates of Buckingham Palace. As for Palmerston looking thirty years younger than he was, Feodora being turned into a jealous schemer in scarlet lace and the idea that the viewing public wouldn’t be able to cope with seeing little boys wearing dresses … come on, ITV, give us a break!!  Entertaining, yes; but an accurate portrayal of events and personalities would have been equally entertaining, and a lot less frustrating for historians!

According to this, Victoria resented the fact that her half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leiningen, had left Kensington Palace to get married, Feodora was jealous of Victoria’s position, and Feodora randomly turned up in London in the middle of the 1848 Revolutions, got on everyone’s nerves, and went around wearing scarlet lace dresses. Er, no. Victoria and Feodora got on extremely well, and Feodora, after her marriage, lived out her life at the Schloss Langenburg in Germany. For an accurate portrayal in fiction of their relationship, see the excellent books by Jean Plaidy and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.  Come on, ITV, this is supposed to be a programme about Queen Victoria, not Dallas or Dynasty! Oh, and we’ve also got a fictitious duchess who’s going to have an affair with a footman, but at least that won’t be misrepresenting someone who really existed!

Palmerston would probably be quite flattered at being shown as a raffish man about town in his forties, when he was actually nearly seventy at the time, but it’s hardly very accurate! In the first series, Lord Melbourne was also shown as being a lot younger than he was. Do the scriptwriters have a problem with men past a certain age? The Victorian establishment certainly didn’t: the Duke of Wellington was in charge of dealing with any unrest in London in 1848, and he was getting on for eighty. My first ever encounter with Palmerston was in the context of his nearly dragging Britain into the American Civil War, which would not have been a good idea; but I’ve got quite fond of him since then, because of his support for Greek independence, reform in Central Europe, and Don Pacifico. And there’s certainly an argument that the Crimean War might have been avoided had he been Foreign Secretary in the mid-1850s.

There was certainly controversy over his outspoken support for the 1848 revolutions, but this programme made it look as if he was saying that everyone should go around chopping off monarchs’ heads, whereas he was actually speaking in favour of self-determination. As a sensible, liberal person, he realised that the nation state was, and is, the most successful and effective form of political unit ever known.  Being trapped in “a prison of nations” leads to instability, economic disparity, and an often violent break-up.  And, OK, he might have been fond of the ladies, but there was no need to suggest that he was some sort of pervert and no woman was safe in the same room as him.  Apparently Daisy Goodwin was trying to make him seem like Boris Johnson!  He didn’t seem anything like Boris Johnson, but he didn’t seem very much like Lord Palmerston either.

There were some annoying minor inaccuracies, as well. Someone was surprised that the Duchess of Devonshire had let her footman leave. There was no Duchess of Devonshire in 1848! The Duke wasn’t married, and his mother was long since dead. The first name of Cuffay, the leader of the radical faction of the Chartists wasn’t Samuel; it was William. Uncle Leopold had written to say that he was under threat from the revolutionaries. Seeing as there wasn’t a revolution in Belgium in 1848, I don’t think so. Then there was the thing with the boys’ clothes. Affie, being much too young to have been breeched, and probably Bertie as well, would have been wearing dresses, as little boys did in 1848. Instead, they were shown wearing kilts. In London. Apparently, the scriptwriters thought that viewers would have been confused by seeing boys wearing dresses. What??!! This isn’t a debate about gender identity: it’s a simple matter of what a particular section of the population would have been wearing at the time.

Irritating as that was, what really got to me was the way that the Chartists, who – admittedly apart from the radical wing led by William Cuffay, but their plans for armed insurrection didn’t actually come to anything – were a peaceful movement, looking for reform and certainly not revolution, were shown as an angry mob hammering on the gates of Buckingham Palace and throwing bricks through the Palace windows. And, for added drama, Queen Victoria was shown as going into labour in the middle of it all! (Princess Louise was actually born several weeks before the Chartist mass meeting of 1848, which was nowhere near Buckingham Palace anyway.)

What a load of rubbish! To be fair, the programme did initially stress that Chartism was generally peaceful and sought reform through constitutional means – universal male suffrage (female suffrage, annoyingly, doesn’t seem to have come into it), the secret ballot, equal constituencies, annual Parliaments, the abolition of property qualifications for MPs, and payment for MPs to enable people who actually had to work for a living to sit in Parliament. The first People’s Charter was presented to Parliament in 1838, the year of the great Chartist meeting on Kersal Moor (I had to get that in!), the second in 1842, a year which also saw a series of strikes, especially in Lancashire and Cheshire (had to get that in as well!), and the third in 1848. A large meeting was organised in London, to form a procession, leaving from Kennington Common, to present the Charter to Parliament.

Unfortunately, it was all a bit of a damp squib in the end, not helped by the fact that some of the signatures were fake (some things never change). But it certainly wasn’t violent. Yes, there was some unrest later in the year. I like telling people that the only place in England which actually joined in with the 1848 Revolutions was Ashton-under-Lyne! But that was a fairly minor thing. There was also some talk of an uprising in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and, yes, in London. As happened after the original French Revolution in 1789, the authorities panicked and brought in legislation meant to stop public meetings and supposed plotting, and people were rightly angry about it. But to show radical Chartists attacking Buckingham Palace is completely inaccurate, and I think it was really quite wrong to do that: it gave a completely misleading impression of an organisation which played an important part in the move towards bringing democracy to our country.

I don’t think what happened abroad was portrayed accurately, either. OK, this wasn’t meant to be a documentary on European history, but it made it sound as if it was all about trying to overthrow monarchies. And, yes, Louis Philippe did take refuge in London, but he tried to keep a low profile: he certainly didn’t move into Buckingham Palace! The July Monarchy in France was overthrown, and replaced by the Second Republic. Which only lasted a few years, before the Bonapartists were brought back. Bourbons, republic, Napoleon, Bourbons again, Orleanists, Napoleon’s nephew, another republic … they never seem to be able to make up their minds in France! There were also uprisings in several German states, and in Austria. But not really in Belgium.

Reforms in Denmark and Switzerland. An uprising in Ireland, which wasn’t mentioned – although, to be fair, it wasn’t until later in the year. I’ve been doing some Hungarian history revision recently, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 went on for eighteen and a half months, before being crushed by Austrian and Russian forces. There were also uprisings in Austrian-ruled Northern Italy, Bourbon-ruled Southern Italy, German-ruled Poland, Austrian-ruled Ukrainian Galicia, Moldavia (Moldova) and Wallachia, It’s hard to think of anything comparable. The fall of communism in 1989, maybe. Or the “Arab Spring” might be a better comparison – promising a lot but sadly achieving very little.

And it wasn’t all about upheaval and violence, which was how the programme made it sound. It was liberal. It was the Springtime of Nations: it was about self-determination. To be fair, both Palmerston and Prince Albert were shown expressing some sympathy for the “revolutionaries”, but it still all came across as being about violence and chaos. Not impressed.

Sadly, most of the 1848 Revolutions were crushed. But, in Britain, the campaign for parliamentary reform went on. Now we can all, regardless of socio-economic status or gender, elect MPs. That was supposed to be the answer to everything. Many of the leaders of the 1848 Revolutions admired the British parliamentary system and wanted one like it. And look what a mess the bunch of idiots we’ve got in the House of Commons now are making of everything . But that’s beside the point. The point is that, whilst this was great entertainment, and whilst anything that gets people talking about history is welcome, it was chock-a-block with inaccuracies, and it will have given people unfamiliar with the period completely the wrong impression of what was going on. Black mark, ITV!

I was glued to every second of it, though … .

Some other posts about Queen Victoria 🙂 :

Victoria (series 1)

Queen Victoria’s Letters

Queen Victoria and her tragic family