The Larkins – ITV

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This seems to have been a mixed reaction to this, but I rather liked it.   It was like The Durrells: no-one was saying that it was particularly intellectually challenging, or even particularly realistic, but it was a welcome bit of comfortable, easy viewing.  Given that practically every programme these days begins with a warning that it contains scenes which some viewers may find distressing, and ends with a list of helplines for people who have been “affected by issues raised in tonight’s episode of X”, I for one am well up for that.   It’s going to be very hard to match up to the iconic David Jason/Pam Ferris/Catherine Zeta Jones series from, unbelievably, thirty years ago, and it *didn’t* manage that,  but it was all right.  The TV listings seem to be filled with series about murder, domestic abuse, children being abducted, and so on, and even soap operas are filled with doom and gloom.  This is a bit of light relief.  Bring it on!

I don’t know about nostalgia for the 1950s, but I would certainly love to get back to a time when aggressive, abusive people didn’t try to turn absolutely everything into a culture war.  I was already feeling a bit fed up earlier, after I’d had to complain to the moderators of a children’s book discussion group I was in after two individuals tried to turn it into class war.  One of them apparently thought it was OK to object to working with anyone who had a “plummy voice” and a name “like Piers”.  Since when was it OK to hate someone just because you don’t like their accent or, for heaven’s sake, their name?!

Then I idly Googled “The Larkins”, and up came a review written by some vile individual called Sean O’Grady, for the misnamed “Independent”, saying that it was “a Brexit television abomination” and that Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries wrote “opioid atavistic tosh”.  Excuse me?   What on earth does a fictional TV series about life in a village in the 1950s have to do with either Brexit or Nadine Dorries?   O’Grady is clearly one of these bittter types who can’t accept that they aren’t entitled to get their own way on anything and everything, but what on earth has that got to do with the Larkins?  And this was in what used to be a mainstream, middle-of-the-road newspaper, not some extremist political tract!

Then there’s the debate over the fact that the Larkins live in, to quote journalist Anita Singh, a “racially diverse utopia”.  It’s completely unrealistic for a rural part of Britain in the 1950s.  But, had it not included any ethnic minority characters, people would have been shrieking about a “lack of diversity” and demanding that it be taken off air.  When the BBC showed their adaptation of A Suitable Boy, which had a predominantly Indian cast, people complained about stereotyping.  I feel sorry for scriptwriters and producers.  Whatever they do, they can’t win.  But, again, why does a bit of light Sunday evening TV have to be turned into a culture war?  Seriously, folks, just try being nice.   It’s not a crime.  Stop having a go at people.  And please stop bringing your personal political views into something to which they have absolutely no relevance!

Heigh-ho!  OK, rant over.  To get back to The Larkins, not an awful lot actually happened.  Mariette wanted to go and work as an au pair in France.  Ma and Pop weren’t keen.  Pop advised Miss Pilchester on a house sale.  Some lad upset Primrose, and Mariette had a go at him.  There was a fuss over who should be the Master of Foxhounds.  Pop bought a car.

And Ma gave Montgomery, Primrose, Zinnia and Petunia a lecture about how they always should kind and polite and treat other people with respect.  I couldn’t agree more.

 

Back to School with Alison Hammond – ITV

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This programme, shown as part of Black History Month, was very interesting, and a much more positive approach than that shown by certain other TV channels and certain newspapers.  It was also very encouraging to see a black history programme that didn’t focus on either slavery or the US Civil Rights movement: obviously those are important, but it was good to see other subjects being raised too.  Alison Hammond is a very engaging presenter, and the stories she investigated – including one about a trumpeter and one about a footballer 🙂 – were all fascinating in their own way.

The trouble is that schools only have a very limited amount of time in which to teach history, and it would be very challenging to incorporate modules specifically on the history of all under-represented groups into that.  As far as I’m concerned, PE and art lessons should be abolished and replaced by extra history lessons, but I’m not sure that the authorities would go for that.  Shame …

She started off by looking into the story of John Blanke, a black trumpeter at the court of Henry VII and Henry VIII.  He certainly sounds like quite a character: he even asked Henry VIII for a pay rise!   However, I think it’s quite hard to argue that lessons on the Tudors should be focusing on trumpeters rather than on the Reformation, the development of the “king-in-parliament” principle, the Anglo-Scottish Wars, etc.  Nobody’s trying to exclude John Blanke from history, of course note; but trumpeters, with all due respect to them, don’t normally get that much attention.

We also heard about Ira Aldridge, a black actor in Georgian and Victorian times.  Again, he sounded very interesting, but Alison Hammond and Adrian Lester, to whom she spoke about him, questioned why they’d never learnt about him at school.  We never learnt about any actors at school, in either history lessons or English literature lessons.  His story was probably a lot more interesting than some of the stuff about medieval monks which we did have to learn about, but actors are just not usually part of a school history curriculum, and I’m not sure why we were expected to be shocked that neither of them had been taught about him.  Fascinating story, but there are so many fascinating stories about individuals, and schools just can’t fit them all in in two or three lesson periods a week.

Walter Tull, however, was someone of whom I’d certainly heard – most football fans with an interest in history will know the name of one of the first non-white footballers to play in the then First Division (for Spurs), and know that he became an officer in the British Army during the First World War but was sadly killed in action.  But – very unfortunately – footballers, regardless of ethnicity, don’t feature on the school history curriculum.  Again, it was a great story, but I wasn’t sure why we were meant to be surprised that his name wasn’t more familiar.

The two most prominent people mentioned – although, TBH, I know more about Walter Tull than I do about Septimius Severus – were Mary Seacole, the Crimean War nurse, and Septimius Severus, Roman emperor from 193 to 211 AD.  I think the name of Mary Seacole is pretty well-known now, and that most people are familiar with her brave and wonderful work during the Crimean War.  We didn’t learn about her at school.  But nor did we learn about Florence Nightingale.  We didn’t “do” the Crimean War.  I wish we had, because my great-great-great grandfather fought in it, and I have actually been to Sebastopol and Balaclava.  But we didn’t.  It’s just not usually on the school syllabus.

Nor is the period from 193 to 211 AD.  We don’t actually know whether or not Septimius Severus was black: we know that he came from Africa, but it was probably from North Africa.  No-one really knows.  We do know that he died in York, and the fact that a Roman emperor – in fact, two Roman emperors – died in York isn’t well-known at all.  But it’s just not a period that’s covered in school history – as in all these cases, it’s nothing to do with racial prejudice, any more than the relative lack of women in history books, as Catherine Morland famously moaned about in Northanger Abbey, is to do with gender prejudice.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable programme, and each of the stories in it was fascinating, and told in an extremely enthusiastic way – Alison Hammond really is great, and always seems so interested in everything she’s talking about.   And, as I said, it was wonderful to see a programme on black history which didn’t focus on slavery or the Civil Rights movement, and which reminded us that “black history” in Britain goes right back to Roman times, and probably earlier.  But the issue is how you would fit that into a school history curriculum, especially bearing in mind that there are other groups who also feel under-represented in history teaching.  Personal histories are great, as the popularity of programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are and My Grandparents’ War shows, but I do think schools have to concentrate on major events, major developments, and the movers and shakers involved in those, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or anything else.  There just isn’t enough curriculum time to include everything.

That’s a great shame.

Maybe we could scrap PE and art lessons, and have more history lessons instead  …

 

The Singapore Grip – ITV

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I hope that this gets better, because, despite the attractive sets and the interesting historical context, the first episode wasn’t particularly, well, gripping.  Whilst I understand that it’s supposed to be a satire, the nasty businessman, the temptress daughter, the spoilt brat son and the nice but dim new business partner were so caricatured that it was hard to take them seriously.  That sort of thing works brilliantly in Carry On films or ’80s sitcoms (speaking of which, all the references to the rubber industry kept making me think of the Union Jack Rubber Company in You Rang M’Lord), but not in something which is supposed to be a drama.  The best character was Webb senior, played by Charles Dance, but he’s been bumped off already!   And the jumping about with the timeline was confusing.

But the sets are nice.  There were no historical/anachronistic blunders.  And maybe it’ll get better, once we get into the love triangle between Mr Nice But Dim, the temptress daughter, and the “mystery” Chinese woman played by Xin from Coronation Street.  And I assume that we are actually going to see the fall of Singapore to the Japanese – I think we’re meant to be in 1941 at the moment.  I hope it gets better, anyway.  There’s nothing else on on Sunday nights at the moment.

We’re in Singapore.  Obviously.  Charles Dance, Mr Webb senior, sadly died part-way into the episode, although not until after he’d struck a blow for the older generation by wandering around the garden topless.  Without a scythe, though. So his nice but dim son has inherited his share of the rubber company which he owns jointly with Mr Blackett/Nasty Businessman, who has two giddy daughters.  The elder daughter told her dad, to whom she’s creepily close, that of course she’d marry the nice but dim guy, and it didn’t matter what he was like, followed by lots of tittering and giggling.  However, it appears that the nice but dim guy is involved with the mysterious Chinese woman, whom the Blacketts met a few years earlier and who has now arrived in Singapore as a refugee, and is suspected of being a communist.  I’m not quite sure what the point of the other daughter and the spoilt brat son is.  Or the wife, which is a shame, because Jane Horrocks is wasted playing a character who hardly does anything.

I shall persevere.  I’m hoping that young Mr Webb is not as dim as he seems, and I’d quite like to know what’s going on with the mysterious woman.  And it might get better …

 

Anne: the Princess Royal at 70 – ITV

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I would love to be like Princess Anne.  Nothing seems to faze her: she just gets on with it.  She also seems to be completely comfortable in her own skin.  She doesn’t moan, she doesn’t use annoying buzzwords, and she never seems to be feel that she needs to prove anything.  I thought that she came across really well in this documentary – every bit as hard-working and no-nonsense as she always does, and also very good-humoured and with an excellent sense *of* humour.

Like everything else this year, this didn’t go to plan.  The original idea was for the cameras to follow around for a year – but then, of course, lockdown put the kibosh on that.  However, it was typical of Princess Anne that that wasn’t allowed to mess the programme up; and, instead, it was turned into an opportunity to discuss her life at Gatcombe Park, and for her to talk about spending time with her grandchildren and joke about offering to help with home schooling as soon as people were allowed to meet up with those outside their own households.  There was even a brilliant clip of her trying to explain to the Queen how to use Zoom.

A lot of it had been filmed before lockdown, though, and we got to see her in a range of different situations – royal visits, charity work, investitures, acting as colonel-in-chief of military regiments, and also relaxing on a boat with Tim Laurence.  It was great to hear from Tim Laurence, because he’s normally so low-key.  We heard from Peter and Zara as well, and they all came across brilliantly – very natural and very affectionate.

We even heard from the Prime Minister, and there was a brilliant moment when a sculptor who was producing a bust of Anne showed her a bust that she’d made of Boris, and Anne joked about how difficult it must have been to get his hair right.  It’s hard to imagine any of the other Royals actually saying that!

Most of it was about her life as it is now, but there was also plenty about her life up until now.  It’s certainly been eventful – from the kidnapping to the Olympics.  It was nothing we hadn’t heard before, but it was still fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed hearing her say that going away to boarding school was her idea.  She actually asked to go, just like a princess in a school story!

I remember the period during which Princess Anne got a rough ride from the press, but I don’t think anyone has a bad word to say about her these days.   This programme didn’t have anything negative to say, but it wasn’t even remotely sycophantic: it was just honest.  And that’s Princess Anne all over.  There never seems to be anything fake about her.  She just tells how it is, and gets on with whatever comes along.  As I said, I wish I could be like her!   And I wish certain other members of her family could be like her.  She’s great, and this programme was great!

Absolutely India: Mancs in Mumbai – ITV

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Now there’s something I missed doing when I went to India – teaching a class of very cute primary school kids, all in smart uniforms, to say “Hello, our kid”.  Why did I not think of that?!  This half-hour programme, the first in a series of six, was a strange combination of Who Do You Think You Are?, Long Lost Family, The Jeremy Kyle Show and a travel programme, but it worked pretty well, probably because the three lads and their dad all came across as such likeable characters.  I’m extremely sad that none of us will be travelling to Mumbai, or even to Muncaster, Malham, Matlock or Morecambe, any time soon, and am actually still struggling to take that in; but we can look at film of the Gateway of India, which I’ve always wanted to see, and of wonderful, colourful, crowded Indian food markets, and hope that better times come again soon.  Meanwhile, this programme was genuinely entertaining.

The idea of this programme was that the three lookalike Thomas brothers, Ryan (Jason from Coronation Street), Adam (Adam from Emmerdale and Donte from Waterloo Road) and Scott (who was in Love Island), along with their dad Dougie (whom they all look like!) were visiting Mumbai, where Dougie’s dad Nolan came from.  Nolan Thomas moved to Manchester around the time of Indian independence, and seemed to have lost touch with his family back in Bombay/Mumbai.

None of the three lads had ever been to India before, and they didn’t really seem to know much about it, so it was partly a connecting-with-your-heritage trip.  Inevitably, there were a load of jokes about not being able to cope with the hot curries, but they also enjoyed seeing the sights, especially the gorgeous markets.  It was also partly a family bonding trip.  Dougie had split from the boys’ mother when they were young, and had very little contact with them for several years after that, and they were very open about the fact that they’d effectively grown up without a dad, and that Ryan had been more like a dad to his younger brothers than Dougie had.  They all seemed to be getting on pretty well, but there were obviously some wounds that ran deep there.

However, the main aim was to try to find out more about Nolan Thomas, who’d been very close to Dougie but had died when the three lads were very small, and to see if they could find any relatives still living in Mumbai.  I’d really like to have known more about the family background, and am hoping that that’s coming in the later episodes.  It was clear from what they said that he was ethnically Indian, but “Nolan Thomas” is hardly a typical Mumbai name, and (being nosy!) I’m hoping we’ll find out more about his family history.

They found out that he’d worked at the Times of India, which sounded exciting.  And they found out which school he’d gone to, and that one of the teachers there had known his brother.  So they went to visit the school … and that was where the lesson in Mancunian dialect came in!   They also met a little girl there whose surname was also Thomas, and whom they assumed was a relative.  But they didn’t go into how they might be related, and we haven’t yet really found out very much about Nolan Thomas and his Mumbai family at all …  but, with five more episodes to come, hopefully we will.

This was really good fun.  I didn’t know if it might end up being a bit too stag party-ish or Jeremy Kyle-ish, but they all came across very well and it was genuinely entertaining.  I’m hoping we learn more about both Mumbai and the family history in the episodes to come, and I’ll certainly be tuning in to find out.

 

Three Royal documentaries – Our Queen At War (ITV), Prince Philip (Channel 5), Princess Anne (Channel 5)

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Three Royal documentaries – Our Queen At War (ITV), Philip: the King without a Crown (Channel 5) and Anne: the Daughter who should be Queen (Channel 5).  None of them said anything we haven’t heard umpteen times before, but they were all quite interesting, especially so as I think they must have been filmed after lockdown – the first “lockdown era” documentaries I’ve seen which haven’t actually been about coronavirus issues.  The opinions of the “experts” were either just given by voiceover or else given over video links from their homes.  I think ITV had tarted theirs up a bit, but the Channel 5 ones were clearly home videos made on Zoom or Tik Tok or something similar.  And the ITV one used animated graphics, which was something different.   I’m not sure how the Queen’d feel about her teenage self being shown as an animated graphic, but I’d like to think she’d be quite amused by it!

With no live sport, soaps on ration, and no way of filming new episodes of most programmes until the end of lockdown, TV channels couldn’t be blamed too much if they just showed a lot of repeats – but they’d gone to the trouble of making these new programmes, and they deserve some kudos for that.

The one about Prince Philip was on first, and this really was largely just recycling old stuff.  Out came the video clips of Charles and Diana’s wedding, Diana’s funeral, etc etc, for the umpteenth time!  I’d really have liked to hear more about Philip’s early years, which aren’t discussed nearly as much – but, to be fair, the title of the programme made clear that it was about his role as consort.  The family stuff, whilst interesting, had been said a million times before, as had the sorry tale of his having to give up his naval career, but I enjoyed the discussions about his work, especially the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.  It was an hour’s decent watching, anyway.

The one about the Queen’s wartime experiences followed a few days later.  Again, a lot of this was, whilst interesting, same old same old – the speech that she made from Windsor in 1940, and the bombing of Buckingham Palace, and she and Princess Margaret mingling with the crowds on VE Day.  I rather enjoyed all the romantic bits, though.  One of these days, history will see the Queen and Prince Philip’s relationship as one of the greatest royal romances of all time.  Walking round the grounds at Windsor hand-in-hand when he was on leave from the Navy.  Bless!   And, as the programme said, having a boyfriend (for lack of a better word) who was on active service gave the then Princess Elizabeth a greater understanding of what so many other women at the time were going through.

The general point of the programme was to emphasise the fact that the Queen, despite her privileged position, shared many of the wartime experiences that other people did, and how the war years shaped her; and it did a good job of that.  For one thing, we were reminded that she and Princess Margaret actually saw a flying bomb going overhead, before it landed very close by, at Windsor Racecourse. There were even some bits I don’t think I’d ever seen before, such as shots of evacuees from Glasgow on the Balmoral estate.  And I loved seeing the film clips of the Queen driving a truck whilst she was in the ATS!   Those clips aren’t often seen.  This was a very good hour’s TV, especially at the moment with the wartime generation proving such an inspiration during the coronavirus crisis.

Just as a slight aside, though, the fact that they’re now the oldest members of society means that the wartime generation have been hit very hard by this horrible virus.  It’s very sad to read about war veterans or Holocaust survivors, who’d come through so much, having their lives finally ended by this awful, awful thing.

Finally, we had the programme about Princess Anne.  I don’t know whether the title was just meant to attract attention or whether someone genuinely thought it was a valid statement.  I can’t imagine for one second that Princess Anne even wants to be Queen, and there’s certainly no “should” about it: she’s not the eldest.  And, whilst I think she’s amazing, it’s probably a job for someone a bit more tactful!  She is great, though!

One of the “experts” mispronounced everything from “primogeniture” to “governess” which was rather annoying, but it was a very good programme otherwise.  We went back through Anne’s early years, and how the media were quite negative about her in the early 1980s, and she was overshadowed by Diana and Fergie as well as by Charles, but how she earned huge respect because of her work with Save The Children and other charities.  There was also quite a lot about her equestrian career.  It didn’t mention A Question of Sport 🙂 , but it did mention her being Sports Personality of the Year in 1971, and competing at the Olympics on 1976.  It also emphasised the fact that she’s often been the first British Royal to make overseas tours to places which are sensitive for one reason or another, notably the Soviet Union – a very good point.

I remember the negative press she used to get, and was very pleased that this programme was almost entirely complimentary about her hard work and no-nonsense attitude.

She does a sterling job!   As do all the other senior royals – and they’ve been doing what they can in these difficult times.  Thank you to them, and thank you to ITV and Channel 5 for taking the trouble to make these new programmes.  I enjoyed all three of them.

Belgravia – ITV

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I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, given what utter rubbish the book was.  Julian Fellowes really should stick to writing TV scripts!  No, it isn’t Downton Abbey, but it doesn’t claim to be; and it was really quite entertaining.  It also suggested that afternoon tea stops you from feeling trapped.  So, in these troubled times, when anxiety levels are likely to be running high, clearly we should all be turning to tea and scones.  It’d be a much more sensible idea than some I’ve heard.  And, should you be a social climber eager to impress a member of the aristocracy, catch her scone as she drops it.

On a different note, but also related to these difficult times, maybe we should all remember the unsung heroes of the world, like Mr Trenchard the army victualler in this story – they don’t get the glory, but they keep us going.  I shall now move swiftly on, before my brain stops thinking about tea and scones and starts humming “The Quartermaster’s Stores” …

This kicked off with the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.  I was pleased to find that some of the ridiculous references in the book to things that no-one could possibly have known before the battle had been removed!  The middle-class Trenchards had managed to wangle an invitation because the Duchess’s fictional nephew, Viscount Bellasis was involved with Sophia, the daughter of the Trenchard family … but he was killed in the battle.

Fast forward 25 years, and the Trenchards were doing very well for themselves, with Mrs Trenchard being invited to one of the Duchess of Bedford’s afternoon tea parties – hence the bit about it being better to be able to move around the room, rather than being trapped at a table – and meeting the late viscount’s mother, as the upper-classes and the nouveaux riches were thrown together in the newly-built Belgravia Square area of London.  There was a bit of waffle about how it was built by Thomas Cubitt …  who, incidentally, was the great-great-great-grandfather of the Duchess of Cornwall, whose mother’s maiden name was Cubitt 🙂 .

It subsequently transpired that poor old Sophia had been tricked into a fake marriage by the Viscount, and had then died giving birth to his child.  This had all been hushed up – but, of course, it’s now all about to come out.  Assuming it sticks to the storyline in the book, the way this ends is ridiculously far-fetched, but I won’t post any spoilers!!   Sophia’s brother Oliver and his wife, whom we haven’t seen much of yet, also play a big part in the story, and, presumably to Downton -Abbeyfy things, it looks as if the servants are going to play a bigger part than they did in the book.

It’s not going to go down in history as an all-time classic, but it was watchable, and, the way things are at the moment, I for one am certainly up for a bit of historical escapism.  All the best to anyone who’s reading this.  Please, stay calm, wash your hands, don’t use a crisis to try to score political points, and be kind and do what you can for others.  And, if you need to escape for a bit, there are plenty of books, films and TV programmes out there.

Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals – ITV

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Watching this was like spending an hour reminiscing with old friends – some laughs, some sighs. They had a nerve calling it “Secrets of the Crown”, though. What secrets?!  At one point, they produced a document from the archives, and announced that … ta-da … it had cost £50 to hire all the chairs for the Queen and Prince Philip’s wedding. Hold the front pages!   And they must have spent a good five minutes discussing the creases in Diana’s wedding dress. I wasn’t really expecting any great revelations, though, and it was easy watching. And they kept going on about what a wonderful team the Queen and Philip make, and how theirs is the longest royal marriage in British history. Bless 😊.   Unsubtle use of “the Crown” in the title.  I haven’t got a Netflix sub, so I’ve never seen “The Crown”, but I’ve never been sure that I want to.  But I do like things like this.

This was supposed to be about balancing love and duty. A few bits had clearly been hastily shoved in at the last minute, after Harry and Meghan jumped ship, but I assume the rest of it had been filmed a while ago and that the timing was just a weird coincidence. Out came all the old stories! Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and whether or not they sympathised with the Nazis. The establishment not being overly chuffed with Princess Elizabeth wanting to marry Prince Philip, and how she stood her ground. Was she ringing Philip from the telecommunications carriage on the train, during the 21st birthday tour of South Africa?  No idea, but I hope so. The much-told stories of how Queen Mary mistaking the traycloth that Gandhi sent them as a wedding present for a loincloth, and how people sent Princess Elizabeth their own clothing coupons – proving how wrong those grumpy MPs who said that people weren’t in the mood for a big royal wedding were. Never trust MPs!

The one part of the programme where they deviated from the traditional view of things was whilst discussing Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend.  Most people take the view that Princess Margaret decided she didn’t fancy giving up her royal status, but this showed documents agreeing that she could keep her royal status, and her Civil List income, and generally carry on as before, and that all she’d have had to give up was her place in the line of succession, which was irrelevant anyway because Prince Charles and Princess Anne were ahead of her. Their interpretation of events was that she just decided that Peter Townsend wasn’t Mr Right after all.   Who knows?  I don’t think anyone buys all that “mindful of the teachings of the church” stuff, though!

Then they brought up all the speculation in the late 1950s that all wasn’t well between the Queen and Prince Philip.  See, all the Royals get hassle from the press.  Remember all those headlines about “the Duchess of Pork”, “Sophie and the Fake Sheikh” and “Waity Katy”?  And it’s not just here – it happens to the royal families of other countries too.  How Harry and Meghan can be so self-obsessed as to make out that the media are picking on them in particular is beyond me.  Look at all the grief Camilla’s had to put up with.  It must be horrendous, but keep calm, be dignified, carry on, and it passes.

They were very even-handed, in this programme, with Charles and Diana, which I was impressed with – it annoys me when people try to vilify one or the other of them.  Can we just accept that it was a bad match?  They’re hardly the first people to have made bad choices of partner, and, if they’d been any other couple, they’d have split up very soon after the wedding.  It’s sad, though.  Easy to be wise after the event, but, looking now at the pre-wedding interviews, it was so obviously a disaster waiting to happen.  I’ve seen better chemistry between complete strangers.  Oh dear 😦 .

Finally, the latest generation of royal couples. High, and well-deserved, praise for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and especially for the Duchess. As for the Sussexes, enough’s been said about them over the last few weeks, and may they stay out of the headlines like they claim they want to.  But it was the Queen and Prince Philip who were the stars of the show.  As great royal romances go, theirs is right up there.

So, like I said, it was like reminiscing with old friends.  But there were definitely no secrets revealed!

Sanditon – ITV. Wrong ending.

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The endings of Jane Austen’s books aren’t always entirely convincing – you really do have to suspend your credulity with Sense and Sensibility, when Lucy Steele goes off with her fiance’s brother and Marianne Dashwood suddenly decides she’s in love with Colonel Brandon after having spent practically the entire book being in love with Willoughby – but they are always happy. Everyone gets married and, we presume, lives happily ever after. That is how Jane Austen books finish. And that is how Sanditon would have finished, had she lived long enough to finish writing it. Sunday night, 9 o’clock, period drama time. Three people had been stabbed in the Arndale Centre, Turkey had invaded Syria, no-one was doing anything about Yemen, United’s season was going from bad to worse … I needed escapism. Me and everyone else.  That’s what Sunday night period drama is for.

That meant Charlotte marrying Sidney, Esther marrying Lord Babington, some sort of redemption for Clara, and, possibly, Georgiana marrying Arthur. Charlotte and Sidney were obviously the main couple, but I also had my fingers crossed for daft-but-sweet Arthur winning the heart and hand of the beautiful heiress and proving that fat people can have happy endings (authors generally reserve them for thin people) too. The only snag was that there wasn’t a partner for nice young James Stringer, but he’d been offered a good job so he was still getting a happy ending of sorts. And Sanditon had been saved, by Sophie Winkleman making it the centre of high society and strongly hinting that she’d bring members of the Royal Family to visit. Well, she *is* married to the Queen’s cousin. Sorted. Or, at least, it should have been. But it wasn’t.  What on earth did Andrew Davies think he was playing at?  Sorry – not funny, not clever. Just wrong.  It feels like a school bully’s played a nasty practical joke and is taking great pleasure in having spoilt things for the rest of the class 😦 .

To be fair, Esther and Lord Babington did get married, and, hopefully, lived happily ever after. It wasn’t very clear what had happened to Clara, but, OK, she wasn’t my priority. James had been offered an apprenticeship to an architect. Georgiana and Arthur were smiling and laughing and dancing together, and she even patted his arm. He told his sister that he didn’t understand women and couldn’t imagine being married, but obviously he was just saying that, right? Sidney kept trying to propose to Charlotte but kept being interrupted, but clearly this was just to heighten the suspense. Finally, they were alone together, and he was just about to ask … and then Esther’s stupid brother caused a scene, and Sidney had to go and chuck him out (could someone else not have done this)?

Now, we’d already seen that Mr Stringer senior had accidentally started a fire. So presumably someone was going to be heroic and save him. Maybe Sidney, to make himself look even more dashing (in a brooding kind of way) and attractive? Or perhaps Arthur, thus impressing Georgiana? Or maybe even Edward, to redeem himself? No. Andrew Davies just had to spoil it. Stringer senior was burnt to death. Poor, lovely Stringer junior, who’d argued with him just beforehand, was left guilt-ridden, grief-stricken, and feeling obliged to give up his new job. And stupid Tom Parker hadn’t paid the insurance.

So how were the Parkers going to pay for the rebuilding? Well, obviously, Georgiana would marry Arthur, and lend her new brother-in-law the money.  Not that there was any reason why Georgiana’s money should have had to be spent on sorting out Tom’s mess, but it seemed to be the only reason all this’d happened.  In the meantime, Sidney took off to London, but told Charlotte that they would finish their “conversation” (i.e. the proposal) when he got back. Whilst it was pretty mean to kill off poor Mr Stringer, I couldn’t believe that at least Charlotte and Sidney weren’t going to get their happy ending, and hopefully Georgiana and Arthur too.

Then … oh FFS, how many more twists in the tale did Davies think we needed? Sidney got back, and announced that he was going to marry his rich ex, Eliza Campion. She who’d dumped him for someone much richer, and then been widowed … and had hoped to get back with him before he’d made it clear he wanted to marry Charlotte. It wasn’t even convincing. If she was so keen on him that she was prepared to marry him presumably knowing that he was only after her money, why hadn’t she married him in the first place? No matter – surely it was only a twist in the tale. As soon as Georgiana decided to marry Arthur, and offered to lend Tom the money, Sidney would be free to marry Charlotte.

And, hooray! At the last minute, as Charlotte was on her way home, her coach was stopped, on a very dramatic-looking clifftop, by a man on horseback. And, whaddaya know, it was Sidney!! Yay!! He’d come to tell her that it was all sorted. Or even that he’d decided to leave Tom to sort out his own financial mess, which, TBH, you couldn’t have blamed him for. Expecting your brother to dump his true love and marry someone else because you tried to cut costs by not paying the insurance is pushing it a bit, by anyone’s standards.

No. Andrew Davies was just enjoying getting everyone’s hopes up. Sidney said that he’d come to say goodbye. Then he rode off. And Charlotte, presumably, went home.  Scarlett O’Hara would have proclaimed that tomorrow she’d find a way to get him back, but Charlotte was too nice to do anything that would’ve stopped dozy Tom from being able to rebuild Sanditon.  So she didn’t say anything.  And that was it.

As I said, not funny, not clever. I’m sure Davies thought he was being very clever, but he really wasn’t. Come on, give us a break. There’s enough misery in the world. We wanted escapism. We wanted a happy ending. This was Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, so it should have been given a Jane Austen-esque ending. ITV were happy enough to take her name in vain to publicise it. Maybe the idea is that there’s going to be a second series. The Arthur-Georgiana situation was left unresolved as well, and a lot of Sanditon itself needs rebuilding, so there’s scope for one – but Jane Austen books don’t have sequels. They end with the heroine getting her man/the heroines getting their men. They don’t end like this.

No doubt some smirking or earnest types will tell us that real life doesn’t usually throw up happy endings and that we shouldn’t be so pathetic as to want them for fictional characters, but we do. This isn’t real life. That’s the whole point. It’s escapism. And Andrew Davies just spoilt it for us. Not clever. Not funny. Just nasty. Like a school bully playing a nasty trick and getting a kick out of spoiling things for everyone else.  That’s just how this feels – like a school bully’s made fun of us all.  Not impressed, Mr Davies.  Not impressed at all.

 

Sanditon – ITV

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I really wanted to enjoy this, especially with Poldark finishing; and I did, but with a lot of reservations. On the positive side, I loved how Andrew Davies had interpreted the characters and their friendships. Lady Denham was superb, Charlotte Heywood appealing and Miss Denham gloriously bitchy; and Sidney Parker displayed traits of both Mr Darcy and Mr Knightley. On the negative side, he’d gone so overboard in trying to “sex it up” that I got the distinct feeling that he was more interested in trying to grab headlines than in entertaining viewers. Male nude bathing period during the Regency period, OK, but not streaking across the beach! The ball ended up more like the Oom-pah-pah scene from Oliver! than something from a Jane Austen book, the suggestions of incest were gratuitous; and Sir Edward Denham and Clara Brereton were supposed to be having a quiet private conversation, not getting up to all sorts in the woods. And a bit more humour wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, in between the shots of bare backsides and wild waltzing, plenty of interesting questions were posed as to how the story might pan out, and I’ll be sticking with it. But I don’t think we’ll still be talking about this in twenty years’ time.  Or even twenty weeks’ time.

The late Georgian era was not the Victorian era. Jane Austen’s books are hardly puritanical. Colonel Brandon’s childhood sweetheart had an illegitimate child and a string of lovers, Maria Rushworth (nee Bertram) left her husband and ran off with Henry Crawford, and Lydia Bennet was quite happy to live with Mr Wickham before they got married. But many of the scenes in last night’s episode just didn’t fit with her writing at all. They weren’t even historically accurate: the waltz was still considered quite shocking in 1816, when the book was set (the manuscript makes the date clear, although last night’s programme didn’t), and wouldn’t have been danced by unmarried couples at a respectable ball. And they weren’t even attractive. Mr Darcy in a wet shirt – yes. Ross Poldark scything with no top on – yes. Bare bums jiggling about on the shore – er, no, thanks.

Bare bums aside, this was always going to beg a lot of questions because Jane Austen was only able to write so little of the story before her final illness. What there is of the book tells us virtually nothing about some of the characters, and we have no real idea how everything was going to unfold or whom she intended to end up with whom. It’s also different from her other books in that it centres on, as Lady Denham summed it up, “industry and enterprise”, rather than the world of the country gentry.

Andrew Davies has developed what we are told about the characters, and I like the way he’s done that. Charlotte was in on the action from the first, with plenty of Elizabeth Bennet’s liveliness but with a touch of Catherine Morland’s naivete, and made a very appealing heroine. Clara Brereton, played by Lily Sacofsky from Didsbury – quick shout out to a fellow Mancunian there 😉 – , was reminiscent of Jane Fairfax – although Jane wouldn’t have been getting up to no good in the woods. Sidney Parker, who’s presumably going to be the hero, was being rude like Mr Darcy, delivering lectures like Mr Knightley, and generally being all dark and handsome and brooding. Arthur Parker was a bit of a comic caricature, but a lot of Austen’s characters are like that – think Mr Collins, or Anne Steele. Sir Edward Denham was very slimy, and Esther Denham very bitchy – I was going to say like a more sophisticated version of Isabella Thorpe, but she didn’t even try to be friendly with anyone!

The one main character whom we haven’t really met yet is Miss Lambe, who, as Austen’s only non-white character, will inevitably attract a lot of attention from viewers and reviewers. All Austen really tells us about us is that she’s “sickly”, the word she uses to describe Anne de Bourgh, which isn’t promising at all – I’m afraid Austen had no patience with health problems! But it looks as if Davies has imagined her being rather more like Caroline Bingley – a bit snooty and very confident, and much more interesting than Anne de Bourgh! The star of the show, though, was Lady Denham, played by Anne Reid. Absolutely brilliant! Like the Dowager Countess of Grantham crossed with a Coronation Street battleaxe. I can’t rave about her enough! I bet she gets all the best lines. And good lines are much more important than streaking across beaches.

The 9pm on Sunday timeslot’s now iconic. It’s the period drama timeslot. But Beecham House was disappointing, the last series of Victoria was too full of historical inaccuracies, the final series (sob!!) of Poldark got rather silly and now it doesn’t look as if Sanditon‘s going to live up to the high standards set by earlier series either. Thank heavens for Gentleman Jack, which raised the bar right back up! I just wish the rest of this year’s period dramas had matched it. It doesn’t look as if this one’s going to. But there were some promising aspects to the first episode, and, hey, maybe it’ll get better!