Vienna Blood (series 2) – BBC 2

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Once again, we have lots of glamorous Belle Epoque costumes and lots of scenes of lovely Vienna, although there was an unfortunate absence of both Sachertorte and strudel.  It’s Vienna, OK.  I expect Sachertorte and strudel.

In the first episode, a Hungarian countess who’d been consulting our Freudian friend Dr Max Liebermann was found dead in the bath.  It was initially thought that she’d taken her own life, but it then turned out that she’d been poisoned.  Max had discovered that she had a son who’d been sent to an asylum in childhood due to his bad behaviour and, once he’d found out that it was murder, assumed that it was the son whodunnit.  He tried to arrange a meeting with the son, but the son planned to murder him … but ended up mistakenly murdering a mugger who’d stolen Max’s coat.  Is everyone with this so far?

The son insisted that he wasn’t the murderer.  The plot thickened.  So was it actually the countess’s young male companion who’d done her in, in the hope of getting her money?  No.  Further investigations suggested that the countess had been poisoned by accident, and that the poison had actually been intended for her male companion.  Who’d been discharged from the Imperial Army for being gay, and was only hanging around with the countess as a cover, whilst she was presumably hanging around with him because she saw him as a substitute son.  His boyfriend, a rank and file soldier with no officer mates to protect him, had taken his own life, and the killer was the boyfriend’s mum.  Who then turned up and shot him.  Then shot herself.  Do keep up.

So four people ended up dead, included the mugger, who’d probably only been after a warm coat.

I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous.  But it was actually rather good.

 

Around The World In 80 Days – BBC 1

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What on earth is this rubbish?   It’s supposed to be a great adventure and a celebration of technological progress, even if it’s rather silly to imagine that Fogg genuinely didn’t realise that he’d gained a day.  Yes, all right, Jules Verne wasn’t very politically correct by 21st century standards, with Fogg rescuing an Indian widow about to commit suttee and then being kidnapped by Sioux and all the rest of it, but he was writing a century and a half ago and, if the BBC didn’t want to deal with that, then they should have chosen a different book to adapt.  This adaptation is just nonsense.  Who remembers Around The World With Willy Fog?  That was 80 million times better than this.  Shame that they didn’t just repeat that instead.

Fogg has been turned into a sort of Blackadder figure, bumbling along uselessly whilst his manservant is the clever one.  I have no objection to the colour blind casting of a black actor as Passepartout, but why on earth have his family been turned into communards?  Half the first episode involved his brother trying to assassinate the president of France.

Where did that come from?  Fix, the man who thought Fogg was a bank robber, has been removed from the story entirely, and been replaced by Abigail Fix, a feisty female journalist.  Yes, I know about Nellie Bly, but this isn’t supposed to be her story: it’s supposed to be an adaptation of Jules Verne’s book.  She and Passepartout are the ones responsible for all the derring-do, whilst the upper class white bloke has been relegated to the status of a total prat.

Seriously, BBC, get over yourself.   If you didn’t approve of Jules Verne’s book, then why did you bother dramatising it at all?   It’s a mid-Victorian book, not a 21st century book.  If you couldn’t accept that, then you should have gone for something else.  Not impressed one little bit.

 

A Very British Scandal – BBC 1

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Well, this was all gloriously scandalous!   Every cliche about bed-hopping amongst the upper-classes – and I do appreciate that it isn’t true in most people’s cases! – in a real life story, which the tabloids of the time absolutely lapped up, not just in the UK but worldwide.  Although, considering that all these affairs were supposed to be going on, we actually didn’t see much of anyone doing more than drinking in bars together – the BBC resisted the temptation to ape Bridgerton!  It was brilliantly well-acted, but the two main characters were both such nasty pieces of work that it was hard to feel any empathy or compassion for either of them.  OK, no-one should be a victim of revenge porn, and I think that the scriptwriters did sympathise with the Duchess, but she was so unpleasant that *I* really couldn’t feel a lot of sympathy for her.  And the Duke was even worse.  But the fact that Claire Foy and Paul Bettany made the viewer feel like that says a lot both for them and for the scriptwriters.

The big problem was that, because it was all so recent, the BBC couldn’t really name a chosen suspect as the “headless man”.  In a historical drama, you can accuse anyone you like of murdering the Princes in the Tower, or put forward any theory you like about what really went on between Mary Queen of Scots and Bothwell.   But there was no way that the BBC could have named Duncan Sandys, Douglas Fairbanks jnr or anyone else as “that man” in “those photos” – it’s just all too recent.   So that did limit the scope of the story somewhat.  But still, very well-written and very well-acted.  Now, having had A Very English Scandal and A Very British Scandal, are we going to have A Very Scottish Scandal, A Very Welsh Scandal and A Very Northern Irish Scandal to follow?!

 

Royal B***ards: The Rise of the Tudors – Sky History

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  OK, this was interesting.  Kind of the Wars of the Roses meets Shameless (I need a Yorkshire equivalent of Shameless, but can’t think of one).  Apparently, nearly everyone who was involved in the Wars of the Roses spoke in a broad northern accent, spent most of their time getting into brawls in pubs, and swore their heads off.  How stereotypical is that?  They’d never have shown people with Oxford accents getting into pub brawls.  Anyway.  Richard of York, whom I kept expecting to put on a Leeds United shirt over his armour, barged around looking thuggish all the time, even when he wasn’t in the pub, and failed in his attempts to become king because people thought he was … er, too thuggish.  The future Edward IV was also a thug, but apparently he did it in a medieval kingly way, so that was OK.  And they both had the wrong colour hair, which was really annoying.

Margaret Beaufort, who looked about 8, didn’t have a pronounced northern accent and didn’t swear, but still hung around in the pub (well, at some sort of drunken gatherings, anyway).  Marguerite of Anjou did not hang around in the pub, but did swear, a lot, in an ‘Allo ‘Allo-esque French accent, calling everyone “pieces of sheet”.  The only person who sounded like an English aristocrat (OK, accents in the 15th century would have been different to today’s anyway, but we can only go off today’s) was Jasper Tudor –  which was rather odd, given that he was Welsh.

Having said all this, Richard of York and the Earl of Warwick probably *did* have pronounced northern accents.  And probably did swear a lot.

Also, there were no historians.  Instead, we had Philip Glenister, Sophie Rundle and Sheila Atim.

The whole thing was fairly bonkers – but, to be fair, the actual facts in terms of politics and battles (as opposed to Margaret Beaufort being in the pub) were pretty much spot on, and it was good to see the vastly underrated Margaret getting so much attention.  And it was certainly different!!  If we’d been shown this when we were doing history A-level, it would *definitely* have got our attention.  Possibly not quite as much as the Lady Jane film with Cary Elwes as a ridiculously romanticised Guildford Dudley did, but that’s beside the point.  It was actually quite cleverly done – it managed to put a populist twist on events without turning them into a load of nonsense.  Not what I was expecting, but I rather enjoyed it.

 

Malory Towers Season 2 – BBC

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I’m in two minds about this, although generally I’m feeling pretty positive about it.  It’s very entertaining – I’ve been binge-watching it! – and there are superb performances all round from a main cast of just 14 people (eight second-formers, one sixth-former, three teachers, a matron, and an odd job boy who has a very Warringtonian accent for someone supposed to be from Cornwall).   Nearly all the main storylines from Second Form at Malory Towers are in, although not all the characters are there, and it does a good job of getting across the iconic Malory Towers issues of Darrell’s battles to control her temper and the importance of honesty and standing by your friends.  It also makes some interesting points about the effects of tricks, which usually just seem funny in the books, and it’s added some depth to the characters of the staff and also the eternally-maligned Gwendoline.

On the other hand, it doesn’t do what it says on the tin – some of it’s a long way from what Enid Blyton wrote.  In the Malory Towers books, anyway – some of it seems to have been copied and pasted across from Five on a Treasure Island! The main plots from Second Form at Malory Towers are included, as I’ve said, although they’ve been altered to fit the small cast size – Belinda’s artistic talents have been transferred to Mary-Lou, and Daphne’s plot of stealing and then redemption by rescuing Mary-Lou has been transferred to Gwendoline, although sadly Mam’zelle Dupont doesn’t feature at all.  The other main plot from the book, Ellen, desperate to impress as she’s there on a scholarship, overworking, is included, with the “right” character.  But, instead of Miss Parker, we’ve got Mr Parker, whereas there were definitely no male form teachers at the “real” Malory Towers.  And a lot of extra plots have just been made up.  However, to be fair, it would have been difficult to fill 6 hours of TV time with the contents of what’s quite a short book.  They didn’t really miss anything out, apart from the feud between the two Mam’zelles,  so I can see that they had to get some extra material from somewhere.

The location is absolutely gorgeous, incidentally!  It’s the Hartland Abbey estate in Devon.  Whilst the Chalet School had lakes and mountains, and Malory Towers had a seawater swimming school, my secondary school had a “scenic” view of the busiest bus route in Europe, and, whilst I think it was a nice building once, it was destroyed during the Manchester Blitz and rebuilt rather haphazardly.  OK, there was a bit of woodland at the back, but we weren’t supposed to go there because it was a hangout for flashers.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely school, but scenic it was not!  In this series, Malory Towers has not only a seawater swimming pool but extensive grounds and (er, despite being so near the sea) a stream.  I would have so loved that 🙂 .  And the room where they had the quiz – that was one of the made-up plots, but I rather liked the idea of the girls beating a team from a boys’ school in a quiz – was stunning.

But we’re told in this series that the school building is dilapidated, that Miss Grayling’s running out of money – I don’t think the books specify who owns the school, but I think most readers would assume that the school’s run by a trust and Miss Grayling is only employed as a headmistress – and then someone’s going to invest, but they’re secretly plotting to pull the building down.  It’s a classic soap opera plot – Emmerdale are currently running something very similar, and Coronation Street also did something similar fairly recently – but what on earth is it doing in a TV adaptation of Malory Towers?!  It just doesn’t fit. I don’t mind the storylines about school plays and outbreaks of measles, because they’re classic school story stuff, and, as I’ve said, I rather liked the quiz – even in my day, the boys from our brother school could be horribly chauvinistic!! –  but the school takeover plot feels out of place.   And the buried treasure plot’s straight out of Five on a Treasure Island, and seems even cornier here than it did there!

Also, what’s going on with Sally wanting to be “form representative” instead of “head of form”, because she wants to represent all the girls?   Would anyone have said that at a boarding school in the 1940s?  Sally does generally come across much as she does in the books, though, as do Darrell, Mary-Lou and Irene.  And Miss Grayling.  Matron’s got a bigger role than she has in the books, and been made into a bit more of a comedy character, but I think that’s partly because Mam’zelle Dupont’s missing and the two characters have to some extent been merged.  A back story about Gwendoline having a difficult home life was brought in in the first series and continued here, which I quite like because there’s just no sympathy either for or from Gwendoline in the books.  And Alicia, often described as “malicious” in the books, has been toned down a fair bit – although we do see her being very selfish, and how Darrell and Sally try to cope with that.  Er, and she suddenly seems to be a champion ice-skater – where on earth did that come from?!  Great performances from all the young actresses, though, and a star turn from Ashley McGuire as Matron!

The way in which Alicia’s tricks are handled is quite interesting.  We haven’t got Mam’zelle Dupont playing “treeks” back, although we do see Mam’zelle Rougier having a bit of a joke on the girls, but it does make the point that school pranks can get out of hand and aren’t always that funny.  I think a lot of us read these books at a very early age and thought that all the tricks were wonderful, and we thought that some of the pranks played at our own schools were wonderful too – unless you were the unfortunate kid who sat on chewing gum, had graffiti written on your locker or whatever.  But, when you’re a bit older and possibly a teensy bit wiser, you realise that they actually aren’t very funny for the victim!  Er, and that sounds really prissy, doesn’t it?!  But still.

Part of that is that kids sometimes forget that teachers are actually human, and this has shown more about the teachers than the books do.  Blyton’s Miss Grayling was all-wise and all serene: she’d never have had money worries!   In this adaptation, we see her struggling with problems, we already know from the first series that she lost her fiance in the Great War, and we learn about her family.  And we also see that Mr Parker (er, not that he was in the books) was given a rough time in his previous job, and the girls understanding the school’s importance to Matron.  We even see Mr Parker’s girlfriend, whereas there was never the slightest suggestion in the books that teachers might have personal lives!  It works well, but it’s very Elinor M Brent-Dyer, not very Enid Blyton.

I can see why purists have got concerns about it, but, all in all, it’s very enjoyable.  The Malory Towers books aren’t the best school stories ever written, but they’re probably the best-known.  Ask people who aren’t devotees of school stories what they know about them, and they’ll talk about Malory Towers.  Jolly hockey sticks, lacrosse (oh, and that’s another thing – as the school’s only got 9 pupils in this, we don’t see any sports matches!) and, of course, midnight feasts.  Maybe this TV adaptation and the recent stage musical’ll keep the popularity of “Girls’ Own” school stories marching on into another generation.  Let’s hope so 🙂 .

 

 

Valley of Tears – More4

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  In 1991, when I was 16, I gave my economics A-level group a lecture on the Yom Kippur War.  The teacher had been droning on about patterns of inflation and GDP, and asked if anyone could explain the problems which arose in 1973.  Excellent, thought I.   An excuse to talk about interesting things like war and politics, instead of financial stuff!   Whilst the rest of the class looked blank, I started talking.  Belated apologies to Mrs Wallace for dragging her lesson off the point (although I did get to the oil crisis eventually.)  However, apparently, most people, not being strange teenage historians, don’t talk about this period in Middle Eastern history at all; and that’s something which this fascinating TV drama series aims to change.   And I also understand that a film on the subject is in the offing, with Helen Mirren playing Golda Meir.

As we saw with the Second World War, sometimes time has to pass before people feel able to talk  about their experiences of war, and the makers of the series have spoken about how some of the veterans whom they interviewed had buried their experiences for many years.  This is essentially a war drama, and the name comes from the Battle of the Valley of Tears, when a vastly outnumbered Israeli force successfully resisted a Syrian attack; but the focus is on the human stories of the individual characters.   It doesn’t make for comfortable watching, and it’s not supposed to.  We see young men, and some young women – gender issues are tackled, as we see female officers being ordered by their male counterparts to get out of the firing line, literally – , many of them doing their national service rather than being professional soldiers, suddenly being catapulted into the nightmare reality of war.  Whilst the viewer is clearly intended to, and will, feel deep sympathy and admiration for them, the programme has little of good to say for the politicians, shown as both taking their eye off the ball in terms of the risk of attack and failing to tackle some difficult social problems.

As we head into Remembrance weekend and remember those who gave their today for our tomorrow, let’s not forget that conflict continues in many places around the world.  Filming of this drama had to be halted at one point because of the risk of rockets fired in the Syrian civil war straying across the border, and the war in Yemen’s been going on even longer, to mention but two examples.

This is an excellent series about war and its effects on the combatants and on society in general, and thank you to More4 for enabling British viewers to see it.

I think that the view in the West at the time, especially bearing in mind the pattern of Cold War alliances, was dominated by a feeling that the Egyptian/Syrian-led coalition had pulled a very dirty trick by launching an unprovoked attack on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.  The view in Israel itself, which led to the fall of the government, was very strongly that the Israeli authorities should have been better prepared, and that’s very much what we see here.  It’s a common historical phenomenon that a country which has been successful in war becomes complacent and is then caught out – think of the Boer Wars, Vietnam, Napoleonic France’s invasion of Russia, the Russo-Japanese War or the 1683 Siege of Vienna.   The message here is that this is what happened in Israel after the Six Day War.  To be fair, that was partly because of the fear that the US would withdraw its support if Israel had launched a pre-emptive strike, but the soldiers didn’t know that.  We see the soldiers having no idea that forces were massing on the border, and a young intelligence worker who kept insisting that something was brewing being dismissed and even mocked.

We also get an interesting insight into the divisions within Israeli society at this time, with considerable resentment amongst the Sephardi/Mizrahi communities, who’d either moved to Israel from other parts of the Middle East or North Africa or whose families had lived there for generations, against the Ashkenazi Establishment.   Some of the characters belong to the “Black Panther” movement, obviously named after the one in America, calling for change to improve the lot of their often poverty-stricken communities.

The first time I came across this issue of historical social division in Israeli society, years ago, I found it quite hard to get my head round, because it’s always been the other way round in Manchester, and indeed in other parts of the UK – historically, it was the Sephardi communities who were well-to-do and in some cases reached prominent positions in society, and the Ashkenazi communities who struggled, although times have changed.  And the same’s true in the US.  So, again, this will challenge the perceptions of Western viewers.  Things have changed in Israel now, but it’s an interesting issue, and quite brave of an Israeli-made series to tackle it.

But, despite feeling that the politicians had let them down, and, in the case of some of the soldiers from Mizrahi backgrounds, feeling that they were treated badly by society in general, and despite having no warning that war was coming, the young soldiers did what they had to do – and, even by the end of the first episode, we’d seen one of the characters killed.   As I said, this doesn’t make for easy watching, but it’s worth the effort.

 

Paris Police 1900 – BBC 4

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Four episodes in, I still can’t quite decide what to make of this – but I think that we are now getting somewhere.  Bearing in mind that I’m a historian, not a crime series person, I was expecting a historical drama showing the effects of the Dreyfus Affair on Parisian society – the nasty side of the Belle Epoque.   It does do that, to some extent, but we’ve also had the police trying to contact the deceased president in a seance to ask whether or not the Dreyfusards murdered him by tampering with his Viagra equivalent, an extremist drugging the police commissioner’s wife in an attempt to take photos of his friend abusing her (fortunately, he was foiled when the dead president’s mistress recovered from a heroin-induced coma and stopped him), policemen being stabbed to death through doors, someone being murdered when his chimney was blocked up so that he was asphyxiated, a man trying to have his wife imprisoned for adultery but changing his mind when he realised that the story’d get into the papers, and an awful lot of dismembered bodies.

However, in the fourth episode, we have finally got more into the nitty-gritty of the Dreyfus Affair and everything surrounding it, and away from some of the crazier stuff.  Although we tend to associate the Belle Epoque with people doing the can-can in the Moulin Rouge, this was a troubled time in French history, with politics deeply polarised, feelings still running high about the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and, of course, the Dreyfus Affair and the associated riots in France and Algeria – which caused such strong feelings internationally that there were anti-French demonstrations in many countries, the entire British press united to condemn the French authorities, the Lord Chief Justice of England criticised the French courts, and Edvard Grieg cancelled a proposed tour of France.  It casts such a long shadow that it’s being dragged up in the current French election race, and a museum dedicated to it was opened only a couple of weeks ago.

Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer, was controversially convicted of passing state secrets to Germany, and exiled to Devil’s Island.  It then emerged that the real culprit was someone else, there were demands  that Dreyfus be released, and, in early 1898, the writer Emile Zola famously published the “J’Accuse letter”, addressed to President Felix Faure, pointing out that the case against Zola was full of holes and accusing the authorities of anti-Semitism and violating justice.  Zola was then convicted of libel.  Anti-Semitic riots broke out across France and Algeria.  Dreyfus was retried, with journalists and photographers all over the world crowding into the court, but again found guilty.  There was such an uproar that he was pardoned, but he wasn’t officially cleared until several years later.

In the middle of all this, President Faure died suddenly, apparently whilst enjoying the “company” of his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil.  And there was an attempted coup at his funeral.

Tangled up in all this was the Anti-Semitic League, which had begun life as a nationalistic league wanting revenge on Prussia but had then turned nasty.

In this series, Marguerite Steinheil is employed by the police to spy on the Guerins, the leaders of the Anti-Semitic League.  Running alongside this is a series of mysterious murders of women, thought to have been carried out by a butcher – hence all the dismembered bodies.

The sets are brilliant – the turn of the century Parisian streets in working-class areas, the gorgeous costumes of well-to-do women, and the Guerins’ frighteningly impressive rabble-rousing.  And there’s an awful lot going on, and a lot of interesting characters.  But some of it really is very strange!   However, what is never is is boring!    Let’s see what the next four episodes bring …

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.

 

Ridley Road – BBC 1

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It’s not often that the TV adaptation of a book is better than the book itself, but writer Sarah Solemani, and executive producer Nicola Shindler from Whitefield, have done an excellent job with this.  Oh, and I’ll just point out that a lot of it was filmed in Manchester, in Bolton and in Ashton-under-Lyne.

It’s quite a bold move by the BBC to show this in the iconic Sunday 9pm slot, usually associated with cosy Georgian or Victorian-era costume drama, but the fact that some of the actors, notably Tracy-Ann Oberman, have spoken of their concerns at the risk of receiving abuse on social media *because* of it – especially given their experiences of such abuse in the recent past – just shows how much it’s needed.

The story’s been completely changed.  In the book – review here – the central character Vivien has recently been orphaned, moves from Manchester to London to look up someone she’d briefly gone out with whilst he was staying with her family, and finds out that he’s involved in the 62 Group, working against the National Socialist Movement*, and also that her late father was involved in its wartime predecessor, the 43 Group.  It’s mostly the men who are involved in the action, with the women watching from the sidelines and mopping up the blood.  However, in this TV version, Vivien is part of an overbearing family trying to push her into a marriage with a family friend, and then runs off to London in pursuit of the man she really loves, finds out that he’s involved in the 62 Group, and becomes actively involved herself.

I wasn’t all that keen on the overbearing family, who were rather stereotypical and seemed to have walked straight out of the pages of a Maisie Mosco book, but I think the idea was to give her a safe, cosy background and for her then to find out that danger lurks in the outside world, and you can understand the reasoning behind that, especially as this clearly is very personal to many of those involved.

Nicola Shindler’s spoken about how she herself resigned from the Labour Party because of the culture of anti-Semitism that had been allowed to flourish under Corbyn’s leadership, and Tracy-Ann Oberman, who plays Nancy, has spoken about the horrific online abuse she received from Corbyn supporters.  Earlier this year, there were some deeply unpleasant incidents in which mobs drove through predominantly Jewish areas of London and Manchester, shouting threats.  And, as the story shows, and which oddly seems to be have been forgotten in recent times, people who attack one minority group will often attack another minority group too: we saw a mixed race character receiving abuse from members of the National Socialist Movement.

A bit more background information would have been useful.  We kept being told that Vivien and Jack had had some great romance, but we didn’t see any of it.  And that her parents had split them up, but it wasn’t clear how or why.  We were made aware that there’d been a big falling-out between Vivien’s parents and her uncle and auntie, who were very involved in the 62 Group, but we didn’t really find out why.  And some of the depictions of Jewish religious rituals may well have been confusing to people who weren’t familiar with them.  But it’s only a four-part series, and you can only fit so much in.

*The 62 Group.  In July 1962, the National Socialist Movement held a mass rally in Trafalgar Square under the slogan “Free Britain from Jewish Control”. A riot broke out at the rally, and, shortly afterwards, the 62 Group was set up.  The timeline got a bit muddled in the programme, but that was because the writers obviously felt it important to show the rally – to show swastikas being waved in Trafalgar Square, and people saying all sorts, because there were no laws against hate speech then.  There are a lot of issues now because it’s so difficult to stop hate speech on social media, and the programme did show how important and essential legislation is.

It also showed how easy it is for rabble rousers to whip up hatred.  Vivien’s landlady, who seemed like a harmless little old lady, was going along to meetings, where local Fascist leaders were going on about how corner shops were being forced to close down because Jewish-owned Tesco were opening supermarkets.  People twist tropes and stereotypes to suit themselves and the issues of the time, and it soon escalates.

One stereotype which the authors have spoken about trying to challenge is that of the minority groups who are victims.  This is Black History Month.  I have seen dozens of lists of “recommended reading”.  Nearly every book on those lists has been centred on accusing white people of racism, rather than saying anything positive about the achievements of black people.  This series is very much about fighting back, about challenging those who attack minorities.  The police and the authorities were seen as doing little to help, and that has some parallels with today, if not here than certainly in the US.

All in all, it’s a challenging story, and, as I said, it’s a bold move by the BBC to show it, especially in that iconic timeslot.  Nobody wants this sort of thing to be making headlines.  No minority group wants to see prejudice against them being all over the news, and becoming a political issue.  Nobody wants to have to form a 62 Group.  But the writers and actors have spoken out about how necessary this series is, and bravo to the BBC (and I don’t often say that!) for recognising that.

 

The North Water – BBC 2

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Several blokes who all swear a lot have set sail for the Arctic, on a whaling mission.  Except that it’s not, because the one in charge is going to scupper the ship so that its owner can claim the insurance money.  Presumably he does plan to save himself.  One of the crew’s going to turn out to be a rapist and one’s going to turn out to be a murderer – not sure whether or not this is the same person.  Our hero, an Irish doctor with an East Midlands accent (most of the others are meant to come from Hull, although some of them sound more like they come from Leeds), is covering up some sort of secret, which seems to be that he was kicked out of the Army for deserting during the Indian Mutiny.  The media reviews don’t seem to have picked up on this.  I don’t know why, because it’s been made pretty obvious!   He spends a lot of time in his cabin, reading books by Homer.  But he nearly didn’t make it through the first episode, after the others left him behind and he fell through the ice.  But it’s OK – he managed to get out of the water by himself.

It’s all very dark – both literally and figuratively speaking.  I’m sure we all understand that the mid-Victorians did not have their homes, pubs and ships lit by 100 watt electric light bulbs, but does everything need to be so dark?  There were complaints about this with both Jamaica Inn and Taboo, but the BBC don’t seem to be getting the message.

I get the feeling that it’s going to be a bit like a grown-up version of Lord of the Flies.  The longer these blokes are all stuck with each other, in the middle of nowhere, the worse their behaviour is going to get.  But it’s quite watchable.  I’ll stick with it!