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!

Fever Pitch: the rise of the Premier League – BBC 2

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I was half-expecting this to be a load of soul-searching about whether or not English football’s sold its soul to Mammon and the extent to which lifelong fans have been pushed out by the prawn sandwich brigade.  Instead, it was largely a nostalgia fest about the wondrousness that was 1992/93.  I rather enjoyed it, and I’m sure that fellow United fans did too; but I should imagine that everyone else was wondering if they’d tuned into MUTV rather than BBC 2 by mistake :-).

In 1991/92, I was in my last year at school, United hadn’t won the league since 7 years before I was born, and we lost out on the penultimate week of the season to Leeds.  That was the last year of the old Football League.  In 1992/93, I was in my first year of university, in Birmingham – not the best place to be as United battled it out with Villa for the title.  This time, we did it!   26 years of hurt came to an end.  Did we care that it was the “Premier League” rather than the “Football League”?  No.  It was still “the league”.  We’d won the league.  And that was all that mattered.

I came home from Birmingham for every weekend home match.  I’d been going to every home match for years.  Did anything change for me in 1992?  No.  Did, as BBC 2 suggested, anything change for me after Italia ’90 (and don’t get me started on the day I had three GCSE exams on the day of one of England’s group matches)?  No.

What about Sky TV?  Well, I’d nagged my dad – sorry, Dad – all through the early months of 1990 to get Sky, so that I could watch tennis all year round rather than just for the few weeks of the year when it was shown on the BBC.  He’d eventually given in.  So, when everyone else rushed to get Sky installed so that they could watch the new Premier League, we’d already got it.  So no change there, either.   Do I feel that I embarked on a “journey” (why is *everything* a “journey” these days) in 1992, as Alan Shearer said?  Well, TBH, no.  But, yes, in some ways, it *was* all change.

I don’t half miss knowing that matches would be at 3pm on Saturdays.  You try to plan something for more than a month or so ahead and it’s impossible.  The match could be at half 12 on Saturday, half 4 on Sunday,  5:15 on Saturday, 2 o’clock on Sunday, Monday night or even Friday night.  Or, of course at 3 o’clock on Saturday.   Not to mention the travelling.  Newcastle v Southampton on a Monday night?   Norwich v Liverpool at half 12 on a Saturday?  Anything goes!

That all started in 1992.  But there was a load of other stuff as well – oh, dear, what on earth was some of it about?   Remember the “Sky strikers”?  What a load of sexist rubbish!   And the rest of “glitzy” nonsense, like the giant inflatable men being brought on to the pitches at half time.  No-one wanted to see that!   A few snooty remarks were made about brass bands.  Well, bring brass bands back, I say!   Older generations reminisce fondly about the days of brass bands at football matches.  Bring them back!

Other than all the talk about United, there was quite a bit of talk about the rise of Blackburn Rovers, bankrolled by Jack Walker.  Complete with a load of rather patronising clips of Southerners saying that they didn’t know where Blackburn was, which I could really have done without.  People moaned at the time about clubs buying success, but now I’d love to see people like Jack Walker and Jack Hayward in the game, owning their hometown clubs, the clubs they’d loved all their lives, rather than money men from America or Russia or the Middle East.  And that sort of thing was what I was expecting this series to be about; but it isn’t.  It’s just basically a lot of nostalgia, and interviews with the great players of the time.  I enjoyed revisiting that wonderful year, but it wasn’t really anything that you can’t see on one of the Sky Sports channels in the hours of TV that they fill up with reruns of old matches or interviews.  Still, I shall definitely be watching the rest of the series!

 

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family – BBC 2

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Just as if there haven’t been eleventy billion programmes about Anne Boleyn already, BBC 2 have decided that we need some more.  Why talk about any one of the zillions of fascinating but neglected historical figures when you can talk about someone who’s already been (apologies for the bad pun) done to death?   Yes, all right, I didn’t *have* to watch it, but I always watch historical programmes!  Incidentally, is it me or does the woman playing Anne Boleyn look strangely like Wallis Simpson?

Having said all that, this first episode was really rather interesting, because, rather than just talking about the goings-on of Anne, George and Mary, much of it was about Thomas Boleyn’s career as a diplomat, and his dealings with some of the fascinating Continental figures of the time.  He never got to meet Ferdinand of Aragon or the wonderfully-nicknamed Philip the Handsome, but he got rather pally with Margaret of Austria, daughter of the opportunistic Maximilian and sister of the aforementioned Philip, the first of the various female Habsburg regents of the Netherlands.  And he also got to meet Louis XII and Francis I of France.  The dealings of Henry VIII and Francis I always make me laugh.  Talk about “mine’s bigger than yours”.

Also, there was a lot of talk about Cardinal Wolsey.  My best ever mark for an A-level history essay was for one about Cardinal Wolsey, so, for that wholly irrational reason and no other, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for him.

This series is claiming to be a bit different by focusing on the Boleyn family rather than just on Anne.  And calling them “A Scandalous Family” is really rather unfair.  Yes, Anne, her sister Mary and her brother George were all involved in a number of real and invented scandals, but let’s give the Boleyns a bit of credit for making it to court in the first place, given that, only a few generations earlier, they’d been a family of tradespeople.  Anne’s father and grandfather climbed the greasy pole by marrying aristocrats, but they wouldn’t have been in the position to do that if they hadn’t already done well for themselves.  The courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII weren’t exactly what you’d call meritocratic, but look at the backgrounds of some of the big names there.  Cardinal Wolsey, son of a butcher from Ipswich.  Thomas Cromwell, son of a blacksmith/pub landlord from Putney.   A bit of luck and a bit of nous and there were chances to get in there; and that’s what the Boleyns did.

The programme did make this point, but it contradicted itself all the way through.  We were repeatedly told that the only way into the inner circle at court was through being a member of the aristocracy, and that Thomas Boleyn’s only chance of promotion was therefore through the assistance of his wife’s relatives, the Howards.  But we were also repeatedly told that Wolsey, the butcher’s son, was far more powerful and influential than the Howards were, that being associated with the Howards was actually pretty risky because they kept narking the king, and that Thomas Boleyn got ahead through his own savviness and the friendship of Wolsey.

And it was through his own charm that he persuaded Margaret of Austria to give young Anne a place at her court, and through his own savviness again that he saw that the wind was blowing in favour of an English alliance with France and got Anne a place at the French court.   Anne, equally savvy, made the most of it.

Mary, by contrast, was portrayed as pretty much being pushed into Henry’s bed by Wolsey, who was made to sound like a glorified pimp, scouring the court for pretty women and giving them no choice but to become Henry’s mistresses.  I don’t think that that was a very fair portrayal of what happened, from anyone’s viewpoint.

So, all in all, this wasn’t overly impressive – too many contradictions, and some rather odd takes on things.  But it was still worth watching – whether the second and third episodes, which will presumably just regurgitate all the Mary/Anne/George stuff that’s been said a million times before, will be equally worth watching, remains to be seen.

Come on, BBC.  The Tudors are not the only royal dynasty in English or British history.  Let’s have a few programmes about some of the others, please!

 

Write Around The World – BBC 4

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This second episode in Richard E Grant’s exploration of three areas of Europe and the books associated with them (lucky Richard E Grant – I always spend ages reading books about anywhere to which I’m travelling, but it’s now 20 months since I’ve been outside Britain) saw Richard travelling around the South of France.   The first book on his list was one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s less well-known books, “Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes”, about his own journeys.  Stevenson’s donkey had been called Modestine.  Hey, that rang a bell!  Yes, I’d definitely heard of that book.  Gosh, was I cultured and well-educated or what?  Then it dawned on me that the only reason I’d heard of it was that, in “Exploits of the Chalet Girls”, the Chalet School borrows a donkey to star in its Nativity Play, and Head Girl Jo Bettany nicknames it “Modestine” after the one in Stevenson’s book.  I hadn’t the first clue what the actual book was about, other than what it said in the title.  So much for being cultured and well-educated.  Oh well.

This sort of thing has happened a few times recently.  Another example was when an book from the 1860s, “Mopsa the Fairy”, was mentioned, and I thought I’d heard of it … until I realised that I only knew the name because it was given to one of Amy Ashe’s dolls in “What Katy Did Next”.  I always thought that Amy had just made it up.  Another of Amy’s dolls was called Effie Deans, and, whilst I do now know that Effie is a central character in Walter Scott’s “Heart of Midlothian”, I certainly didn’t when I first read the “Katy” books, and, TBH, I think I was into my teens before I realised that “Heart of Midlothian” was a book as well as a football team.  Oh, and yet another of Amy’s dolls was called Peg of Linkinvaddy, and I still don’t know where that name came from.  I’ve just tried doing a Google search on it, but, for some very strange reason, I got a load of answers about, er, male medical issues.

Then there was Ellen Tree, the name given by the March girls in “Little Women” to a fallen branch which they use as a pretend horse.  Ellen Tree was the name of a 19th century British actress.  Did you know that?  No, nor did I until recently.  I’m making myself sound ridiculously ignorant, aren’t I?  I may not have read the donkey book, but I read both “Kidnapped” and “Treasure Island” as a kid, and I can still recite most of “From A Railway Carriage” after being forced to learn it off by heart by an old-fashioned primary school teacher who thought that making kids learn poetry off by heart was still appropriate in the 1980s.

Anyway, we learnt a bit about the Cevennes, and how the Presbyterian-raised Stevenson got stressed out about having to kip in a Catholic monastery because there was nowhere else to stay.   Then we moved on to Marseille, and the prison which inspired Dumas to write “The Count of Monte Cristo”.  I know all about Dumas.  “One for all and all for one, Muskehounds are always ready” … er, OK, I did actually know the story of the Count of Monte Cristo!   Blue sky, blue sea.  Lucky Richard.

Next up, “Tender is the Night” by F Scott Fitzgerald.  Er, I’m afraid that I didn’t know this one.  I did once get a good mark for an essay about F Scott Fitzgerald, although I’m not sure why because I got completely off the point and started waffling about the American Civil War in the middle of it. I don’t really get Fitzgerald. I didn’t get that Leonardo di Caprio film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” either.  Anyway, this gave Richard an excuse to swan about at very posh hotels on the French Riviera, so it made for rather good viewing.

And then on to Carol Drinkwater, who used to be in “All Creatures Great and Small”, and her books about growing olives in Provence, where she now lives with her French husband.  This was lovely.  I don’t actually like olives, but I love olive groves.  Not quite as much as I love lemon groves and orange groves, but even so.  Gosh, I do miss Southern Europe.  I would give a great deal to be in a Tuscan olive grove just now.  Please, please, let’s get these travel restrictions lifted soon.

And finally, Grasse, the perfume capital of the world.  Ah, lovely!  I love Grasse.  The book concerned was “Perfume”, by Patrick Suskind.  I didn’t know this one, but it sounded very sunny and romantic.  Er, no.  Apparently it was about a man who went around murdering young girls.  Why would you write about so nice a place as Grasse and make it so horrible a story?!   Oh well, we still got to see the parfumeries.

It was a very aesthetically-pleasing programme, and I love the idea of combining books and travel – it’s something I like to do myself.  I just feel sad that I’ve lost two years’ travel opportunities because of this horrible virus.  We only get the legal minimum number of days off work, so it’s not as if I’ll be able to make up for that at such time as, hopefully, overseas travel gets back to some sort of normality.  But it was nice to watch!

Pose (Season 3) – BBC 2

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This is the third and final series – or “season”, as our American friends say – of Pose.  It’s going to cover the ongoing difficulties caused by the attitude of religious organisations towards the LGBT community, an area in which, nearly 30 years after this is set, sadly little progress has been made.  And it’s also going to revisit the story of the body in the trunk in the wardrobe: I was really hoping that they’d decided to forget about that, but it seems not!

Well, it’s now 1994, and the gang have reunited to … er, watch O J Simpson being chased by police.  Has anyone ever actually rung their friends to ask them to come round and eat popcorn whilst watching live coverage of a police car chase?!   Oh well, whatever, it worked as a plot device to get everyone together!

The first series, set in the late ’80s, was generally quite upbeat, as we saw people making new lives and forming surrogate families in the ballroom scene in New York, but the second series, set in the early ’90s, was dominated by the effects of the AIDS pandemic.  This series has also started on a downbeat note, as the community continues to lose people to AIDS, others struggle to cope with living with HIV, and a number of major characters turn to drink and drugs.   Meanwhile, the ballroom scene’s becoming increasingly commercialised, and that’s detracting from the community spirit and support that it’s always provided.

However, we’ve got the house mothers doing a superb job of trying to hold it all together – supporting the people who need it, and reminding everyone else of the need to stand by their friends.  A lot of the focus is on the older characters this time, and M J Rodriguez as Blanca, Dominique Jackson as Elektra and Billy Porter as suffering Pray Tell really are putting in very strong performances, as we jump from home scenes to hospital scenes to ballroom scenes.   The 1994 music’s a bit too late for me 🙂 , but never mind!

This has already been shown in America, but I’m not going to try to find out in advance how it ends.  However, I gather that it does end on a positive note, although some characters aren’t going to make it to the last episode.  It’s difficult to find a balance between being too upbeat and being too downbeat when telling the story of a community that’s faced a lot more than its fair share of problems, but this has been really good.  It’s a shame that there isn’t going to be a fourth series, but the producers have said that they feel that this is the right time to stop.  All the best to everyone involved in whatever they do next.

Anne Boleyn – Channel 5

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I’m not sure that we really needed yet another TV series about Anne Boleyn.  Her story’s been done to death (pun intended), and, consequently, most of the reaction to this has been either moaning that it’s old hat or else trying desperately to find a new angle on the story by talking about “othering”.  Obviously that’s not the fault of either the actors or the scriptwriters, but it’s hard to make a big impression when you’re covering a story than everyone’s heard a zillion times before.  There are so many neglected areas of history which Channel 5 could have chosen to cover instead.

On the plus side, this is a proper historical drama.  It’s no Versailles or The Tudors: it does actually stick to the real people and the real series of events.  Well, main events, anyway.  It’s also positive that it’s looking at things from Anne’s point of view, and that it’s showing her as a deeply intelligent woman who championed the Reformation, rather than just as a scheming tart who stole another woman’s fella.

However, the dialogue’s really rather naff.  It tries to be clever, but doesn’t always manage it.   Some of it’s overloaded with metaphors (there are a lot of metaphors, symbols and omens) – ” Ooh, Jane, if you don’t know the rules, you shouldn’t play the game” – and some of it sounds like someone trying to be Jane Austen but not succeeding.  Jodie Turner-Smith’s really doing her best with it – her delivery of some of Anne’s bitchier lines reminded me of Joan Collins in Dynasty – but it’s just not that well-written.  The Boleyns all get some good lines – George and Jane Boleyn both come across very well, George as his sister’s chief supporter and Jane as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and Cromwell does too, but Henry’s character didn’t come across at all.  And what on earth was that scene with Anne kissing Jane Seymour supposed to be about?  Jane, incidentally, is presented as a simpering little ninny.  Oh dear.  I thought we’d got past that idea.

The costumes are great.  It’s nice to see Bolton Castle being used for most of the indoor shots: I’ve been there a couple of times.  And the series is all right: I’ve seen far worse.  But this subject’s been covered so many times before that any new series would need to be absolutely outstanding to make a really big impression, and it isn’t.

There’s been a lot of talk about the casting of a black actress to play a white historical figure.  There’s actually been a lot of talk about casting lately, and it’s getting a bit silly.  A non-Latina actress was pressurised into giving up the role of Maria in West Side Story; Russell T Davies said that straight actors shouldn’t play gay roles; the casting of British actress Cynthia Eriwo, rather than an American actress, as Harriet Tubman was criticised; people have questioned the casting of a Catholic actress as the Jewish heroine of Ridley Road; and, to cap it all, people moaned that Will Smith shouldn’t have been cast as Richard Williams because their skin isn’t exactly the same shade of black.  What next?  No-one should play a member of the Crawley family in Downton Abbey unless they’ve got a title?

Having said all that, I didn’t think it was appropriate to cast Helen Mirren, in her 70s, as Catherine the Great in her 30s, and that thing BBC 2 did with women playing male Shakespearean roles was daft.  So I suppose there are limits.  But let’s not get too hung up about “representative” casting, or we’re going to end up with roles being cast based on box-ticking rather on acting ability.  Just as long as there’s a level playing field.   If it’s OK for a black actress to play a white character or a gay actor to play a straight character, it’s OK for a white actress to play a black character or a straight actor to play a gay character, unless it’s a role where ethnicity or something else is a big part of the storyline.

What I’m not really getting is this waffle in some areas of the media about how choosing Jodie Turner-Smith because she’s a black actress, rather than just because she’s a good actress, is “identity casting” which is showing how Anne Boleyn was “othered”.  Er, what?   How long has “other” being a verb?  And no-one was “othered”.  Favourites and factions came and went at court, and, in Henry VIII’s time, that was complicated by the religious turmoil and the desire for a male heir.   When Anne lost favour, she didn’t have a party of supporters strong enough and loyal enough to stand up for her.  Nor did numerous other people who fell foul of Henry.  Joan of Navarre was accused of witchcraft, and Mary Beatrice of Modena was accused of bringing Jesuit priests to court to subvert James II.  No-one talks about them being, er, “othered”.

The problem is that so much has been said about Anne Boleyn that people end up scratching around trying to think of any new angle on her story.  It’s like some of the bizarre suggestions made in recent years about who killed the Princes in the Tower – everything there is to be said about the likely candidates has been said, so people come up with outlandish ideas just for the sake of saying something different.

Anyway, to get back to the actual programme, which has been rather overshadowed by the debate over the casting, it was, as I said, OK …  but this period in history’s been covered so many times, both in dramas and in documentaries, that it needed to be absolutely amazing to be memorable.  And it’s not bad, but amazing it isn’t.

The United Way – Sky Documentaries

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This felt more like a home movie than a documentary, but I mean that in the most positive of ways.  It was like catching up with old friends.  People whom I hadn’t seen for years.  Arthur Albiston.  Kevin Moran.  Norman Whiteside.  Paul Parker.  Ron Atkinson was like some embarrassing old great-uncle who always says the wrong thing and makes everyone cringe!  Some were people we still see regularly.  Bryan Robson, my childhood hero 🙂 .  David Beckham, still one of us even if he’s a world famous megastar living in America.  And, of course, Eric Cantona.  Wearing a flat cap and making cryptic comments, although at least he didn’t mention seagulls.

People were relating little anecdotes, like you do at family gatherings.  Players reminisced about Alex Ferguson making them have margarine instead of butter, and talked about feeling like part of a family, part of a tribe.  United director Mike Edelson, whose daughters were at school with my sister and me, told the bizarre tale of how, in 1986, he rang the Aberdeen FC switchboard, put on a fake Scottish accent and pretended to be Gordon Strachan’s agent, knowing that he’d never be put through to Alex Ferguson if he was known to be from United.

I was hoping that it’d tell the full story, starting in 1878, but it started with the Busby Babes and ended with That Night in Barcelona in 1999.  So it wasn’t really a history of Manchester United: as I’ve said, it was more like a home movie.  Was that really 22 years ago?  “Who put the ball in the Germans’ net?”   I’ve got a miniature troll which I bought on holiday on Norway in 2004, and he’s called Ole Gunnar, long before anyone ever dreamt that Solskjaer would one day be the manager.  Well, what else could I have called him?!   A girl in my year at school had a dog named after Kevin Moran.  Plenty of people have named babies, never mind trolls or dogs, after footballers.  This is what we do.  This is us.

The word “Glazer” was never mentioned.  Nor, for that matter, was the word “Knighton” or the word “Maxwell”.  No mention of boardroom politics.  No mention of sponsors.  No mention of TV companies.  Not even any mention of the changeover from the Football League to the Super League.  Instead, we had appearances from Shaun Ryder and Bez from Happy Mondays, and Peter Hook from New Order, all lifelong United fans.  And Andy Burnham, who, although we all know he supports Everton, was welcome because we know he loves football.  He mentioned that his dad, working in Manchester at the time, went to the first match after the Munich Air Disaster.  So did my dad, with his dad.

This is us.  This is coming out of school and learning from the Manchester Evening New billboards that Ron Atkinson had been sacked.  No mobile phones in those days.  The odd Walkman made its way into school, but I’m not sure that we had Walkmans with radios in 1986.  We certainly did by 1990/91, because I remember sneaking mine in so that I didn’t have to wait until I got home to hear the Cup Winners’ Cup draws for the next round!  This is arguing (amiably, ish!) on the school bus with kids who support City.  And this is hundreds of thousands of people packing into town to cheer the treble-winning team on their open top bus tour when they got back from That Night in Barcelona.

Let’s get back there.  It’d be very nice indeed to get back to the glory days of 1999, but, first, let’s get back to having packed stadia, and to having people crowding into the streets to cheer on teams after winning a trophy or winning promotion.  And let’s get back to everyone accepting that the clubs belong to us, to generations of loyal fans.

We got a bit of general social history.  Partly from Andy Burnham.  Partly, bizarrely, from Michael Heseltine and Neil Kinnock: I’ve got no idea how they got in on the programme!  And we got the general story.  From 1958 to 1999 only.  If you’re actually reading this, you’ll probably know it all.  The glory of the Busby Babes.  The tragedy of Munich.  Matt Busby’s incredible building of a new team.  The European Cup triumph in 1968.  The struggles after Sir Matt retired.  26 years without a league title.  Tommy Docherty running off with Laurie Brown’s wife.  The drinking culture in the Atkinson years.

And the struggles in the early Fergie years.  We didn’t appreciate quite what a mess he had to sort out.  By early 1990, there were all sorts of stupid jokes flying round.  “Alex Ferguson, OBE – out before Easter.”  “What’s red and costs £15 million?”  “An expensive tomato.”  £15 million was an awful lot of money in pre Premier League days.  And the Mark Robins goal that saved us all!   Then the nightmare of 1991/92, when we blew it.  Signing Eric.  And then the joy of 1993, and the many wonderful years that followed.  They didn’t end in 1999, but I suppose it seemed like a good place for the programme to end.

It’s 22 years to the day since That Night in Barcelona.  I’m hoping that that’s a good omen for tonight’s Europa League final in Gdansk.  In 1983, the year that my little self finally convinced my dad that I’d behave if he took me to Old Trafford, and I attended my first match (we beat Stoke 1-0), Lech Walesa, Gdansk’s most famous son, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but he couldn’t accept it in person because he was afraid that the Polish communist government wouldn’t let him back into the country afterwards.  And in Valencia, home of Villarreal, tonight’s opponents, it was only a year since Spain had completed its transition to democracy after the death of Franco.  I feel really old now I’ve written that!

Anyway, we’ll all be watching, wherever we are.  Alex Ferguson.  Eric Cantona.  David Beckham.  Bryan Robson.  The musicians, the politicians, the journalists, and everyone else who featured in this programme.  Like Eric said, we’re a tribe.  And, whilst this won’t be winning any awards for great documentary making, it wasn’t half great viewing!

 

 

Edward VII: The Merry Monarch – Channel 5

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  The Entente Cordiale wasn’t mentioned until the 79th minute of the 90, and the to-do over the People’s Budget wasn’t mentioned at all.  But we heard an awful lot about waistcoat buttons, champagne baths, and, of course, ladies.  However, even if there was way too much gossip and not enough serious stuff, this was a really lovely, positive portrayal of someone whose father said he was useless, whom a lot of puritanical courtiers and journalists said would make a rotten king, and who actually did a superb job, left the British monarchy in a very strong position ahead of what would turn out to be a difficult time for monarchies, and was genuinely popular amongst people of all backgrounds.  Good old Teddy!

We were told that Downton Abbey typified people’s images of the time of Edward VII.  Given that we tend to use “Edwardian” to mean 1901-1914 rather than 1901-1910, I suppose the fact that the first series of Downton Abbey was set during the reign of George V can be overlooked!  Did it typify people’s images of the period?  Well, I suppose it did if you were only thinking about stately homes.  The Edwardian era’s actually seen as a very positive time for everyone – strangely so, given that a lot of people were struggling at the time.  There’s even a song about it in Mary Poppins!  The positive image is partly because, compared to the horrors of the Great War, what came before has to seen like a golden era.  And it’s partly because the Victorian era, even by the 1890s, is seen as a very puritanical era, and people get really fed up of puritanical eras.  Charles II, another slightly naughty king, is remembered fondly because he came after the nightmare of the Cromwellian era.  But a lot of it’s because of Edward/Bertie.  He really is seen as a very positive figure.

I would like to have heard more about his peacemaking/diplomatic skills, which were of crucial importance to … well, to the whole world, really, given what lay ahead.  And about how his social circle included people far removed from traditional aristocratic circles.  But, hey, the stuff about champagne baths, watching Can Can dancers, leaving his bottom waistcoat open because it strained over his tum tum, and, of course, his mistresses, was all quite entertaining.  It was also good to hear the praise for Queen Alexandra, who had a lot to put up with it and did a wonderful job as Princess of Wales and then as Queen – although I’m not sure we needed to hear quite so much about her clothes and jewellery.

But, in between the gossip, we heard all about Edward’s interest in technology – he was on the receiving end of the first wireless message sent across the Atlantic, a greeting from another much-loved Teddy, President Roosevelt – and, most of all, his understanding of the need for the Royal Family to be visible, and how he was the one who established a lot of the pageantry that we still enjoy today.  And how, when he died, there was genuine grief across the nation and beyond, from people of all backgrounds.   He got it right.  And, considering how many people thought he’d get it all wrong, that’s particularly impressive.  As I said, good old Teddy!

 

 

 

 

 

Domina – Sky Atlantic

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  This wasn’t bad.  Given that Sky Atlantic aren’t exactly the masters of historical accuracy, I was prepared for all kinds of bizarre goings-on.  When we started with a bride-to-be, our heroine Livia Drusilla, being told to inspect a naked male slave so that she’d know what bits were where before the wedding night, and then overhearing her relatives discussing murdering the bridegroom, I thought, oh dear, here we go.  But, after that, it wasn’t OTT at all.  In fact, some of the second episode felt a bit like a 1970s sitcom, as a leading Roman patrician got in a strop because no-one’d told him the dress code for a party, and he’d been the only one who’d turned up in a toga.  At the said party, the women’d sat at one end of the room, bitching about the decor, and the men’d sat at the other, discussing chariot-racing.  This was after an earlier party, at which the host had explained to Octavian that their toilet was now connected to the aqueduct, so it didn’t smell like the old one did.  I’m not sure that Octavian needed to know this.

In between the parties, the political history was actually pretty accurate, as we saw Livia’s father back the losing side, fighting with Brutus and Cassius against Octavian and Mark Antony, and killing himself after their defeat at Philippi.  It’s a well-known part of Roman history, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone consider its effect on Livia before.  If people write about the women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, it’s usually either “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” or accusing Livia and Agrippina of poisoning everyone.  This series is certainly something different.

Impressive array of local actors.  Young Gaius/Octavian/Augustus is from Bolton.  His older self is from Atherton.  His second wife is from Rochdale.  And his chief general is from Wigan.  In fact, young Gaius actually seems to be rocking a “Madchester” 1990 image, with the floppy black hair.  Just needs a hooded top and a pair of Joe Bloggs jeans instead of the maroon toga.

It was rather confusing, because we kept flashing backwards and forwards in time, but a lot of TV series, films and books do that now.  And the Julio-Claudians are confusing generally, because they’re all known by umpteen different names, all have the same names as umpteen other people, and keep changing their partners; but that’s not Sky Atlantic’s fault.

Our heroine Livia Drusilla, aka Julia Augusta, was Octavian (referred to in the programme, accurately as we’re in his early years, as Gaius, but I’m used to thinking of him as Octavian, and his official emperor name was Caesar Augustus)’s third wife.  She was previously married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, the one who got the dress code wrong.  Not to be confused with the Nero, who fiddled whilst Rome burned.  That Nero, the one who fiddled, was directly descended from Livia/Julia, via her son Tiberius, whom she was expecting with her first husband when Gaius/Octavian/Augustus ordered him to divorce her, at the same time as which divorced his own second wife (Scribonia from Rochdale), who was expecting their daughter, also Julia, who later married Tiberius.  Tiberius was Julia’s third husband.  She was previously married to Agrippa from Wigan.  And someone else (not at the same time).  I did say it was confusing.

Anyway, Livia’s a pretty interesting character, who was married to Octavian for over 50 years, held far more power than most other Julio-Claudian women did,  and, depending on what you read, was either a domineering dowager who went around poisoning people or else was a paragon of all the virtues.  There was a lot of talk in this first episode about women only being valued for childbearing and weaving, so I assume this is going to be a feminist take on things.

It wasn’t brilliant, but it certainly wasn’t bad.  I shall keep watching!

The Pursuit of Love – BBC 1

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I feel as if I should have some very strong opinions about this, seeing as it’s in the sacred Sunday 9pm slot; but I haven’t.  It wasn’t particularly good.  It wasn’t particularly bad.  I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on how faithful it was to that.  Most of the characters were intensely irritating, and some of them were so OTT that it was difficult to take them seriously; but I assume that they were meant to be like that.   And not an awful lot actually happened.

Having names popping up and pinging noises was silly and infantilising; it would have been better to have used pop music from the appropriate era; and I really didn’t get that bizarre fantasy scene with Lord Merlin prancing around.  And what was going on with two cousins in their late teens sharing a bath?  Sharing a bath with a sibling or cousin when you’re 7 is one thing, but, when you’re 17, it’s extremely weird.

However, the costumes were great, and the shots of various glorious stately homes were lovely.  But Pride and Prejudice, or even Downton Abbey, this ain’t.  We’re not going to be talking about it in 26 years’ time.  We aren’t even going to be talking about it in 26 weeks’ time.  But there’s nothing else on on Sunday nights, and it was entertaining enough, so I’ll be sticking with it.

It’s based on the book by Nancy Mitford.  I will read it at some point, but I’ve never understood all the fuss about the Mitfords and I don’t think that this is going to change my mind about that.

We’ve got two upper-class cousins, Linda and Fanny, in the 1930s.  Fanny’s mother, known as “the Bolter”, ran off when Fanny was a baby, leaving her with an auntie, and she (Fanny) has somehow ended up living with another auntie and uncle, plus their numerous offspring, who include Linda.  Linda’s dad is a pantomimish type who thinks that women shouldn’t be educated and all foreigners are baddies, and rides around yelling that he hates children.  The children spend a lot of time hiding in cupboards.  They have a neighbour called Lord Merlin.  Linda marries a banker who has a bit of German ancestry.

Er, and that seemed to be about it.

Maybe it gets more interesting later on …