Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Say it ain't so!  BBC4 under threat?  Someone stop this madness.  Do we need to dumb down further?  The intelligent programmes may be enjoyed by a minority, but isn't the answer to widen interest in challenging output?  We're not talking 1970s OU broadcasts of bearded men in polo-necks chalking symbols on a blackboard (no offence, guys).  This is lively, innovative, joyously un-mainstream stuff, from seasons on childhood through history to docu-dramas of popular icons such as Enid Blyton and Hattie Jacques, to name a few recent examples.  Lets not forget importing the cream of international drama: Mad Men, Spiral, Wallander, The Killing.

The launch of the freeview channels, along with the digital radio stations, seemed like a new age in broadcast media, where increased viewer choice would offer entertainment and education without subscription.  The advent of the iPlayer facility opened things out even further.  It's naive to forget that television is a business and ratings matter.  Nonetheless, the BBC has, so far, managed to fulfill its remit to inform, educate and entertain despite government opposition and enforced cuts.

We want to keep BBC4.  Speak out or lose it forever.

The Field of Blood

Based on a novel by Denise Mina, a belated showing of this Scottish production, and in the late slot post-ten o’clock news.  The nine o’clock crowd would presumably be outraged at the depiction of early-80s Glasgow in all its sexist, racist and generally un-pc glory.  Sort of ‘Life on Mars’ north of the border, with added bite.  Direct references to her weight and her sex life glance off young Paddy Meehan like everyday banter rather than have her calling for a tribunal.  Not, we must make clear, that Jayd Johnson, playing Paddy, is in the least overweight.  No, she is fat only in the televisual sense, i.e. not at all and you pick up that she’s meant to be only by characters making constant reference to it.  Ms Johnson is likeable and ably supported by the likes of Peter Capaldi, David Morrissey, Bronagh Gallagher (loved her at the RC last week) and Jonas Armstrong.

The plot so far is simple: Paddy’s young cousin is suspected of killing a toddler, in a case redolent of James Bulger.  Paddy recognises the suspect and confides in a journalist colleague, who then writes up the story, thereby rendering Paddy persona non grata among her own family.  Here is the only TWNH, since they don’t ask Paddy to explain, nor give her a chance to.  To clear her name, as well as her cousin’s, and also to establish herself as a journalist rather than ‘copy boy’, she sets out to find the real killer, using the name of her perfidious colleague.  

So far, so good.  Interesting soundtrack avoiding the obvious 80s tracks, and a real feel of a dingy, post-industrial but pre-make-over Glasgow.  We're hoping for a decent conclusion next week, with a bit more of the supporting cast, please! 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Page Eight

A spy story!  The murky world of government!  The machinations of the shady and the powerful!  Yes, here we go again, and clearly Mr Hare's actor friends bombarded his phone line(s) to be in it. Can we believe that the British PM would collude with American agents of torture?  Sadly yes, we can, and we're unable to throw a TWNH at it.

You can count cliches: jazz-loving hero is unlikely magnet for women, has estranged daughter and ruthless (female) colleague; deceased honourable man who knew too much etc.  You can recall countless other dramas with similar themes ('Defence of the Realm' was made around a quarter of a century ago and remains depressingly pertinent).  What made this so watchable was David Hare's dialogue: sharp, lyrical, revealing the difficult mix of cynicism and hope that dogs Worricker, and presumably Hare.  It's the cry of someone who wants a better world, where honour and loyalty have meaning, although as Rollo, an undercover agent, points out, nothing has changed: the world is still run by the same people, and they are Worricker's own class.  Unlike his fellows, he will not adapt, chameleon-like, with the times.

"It's the 21st Century....  Why do people keep saying that, as though it justifies everything?"  I paraphrase, but it's a timely reminder that it isn't only spies who don't know whom to trust.

The Man Who Crossed Hitler

Based on true events from 1931 when a lawyer, Hans Litten, forced Adolf Hitler into a courtroom.  The lawyer was a liberal, left-leaning, even, and Jewish.  The only possible TWNHs could be in the minute details of production, or of character portrayal.  We're not familiar enough with either to recognise any.  The familiarity of the story, though, is all the more shocking and uplifting for being true: man of integrity defies rising tyrant, achieves the only likely victory - a moral one - and pays the likely penalty of losing his life.  An intelligent script, good performances (playing Hitler must be only slightly less trying than really holding his views) and a great argument for supporting single dramas.  We'd studied modern history and not come across Mr Litten, a man with the courage of his convictions in an age of overblown icons and moral abdication.


We abstained from this on the grounds that we wanted a holiday from Suranne Jones (nothing personal) and would be tempted to miss Clint Eastwood.  Not a regular occurrence....

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Final Hour

We liked the performances more and more, but still couldn't care less what happened to the characters.  This, we think, was down to good actors struggling in vain with a clunky, leaden script. We're reluctant to criticize Abi Morgan, when there are (still) so few front-rank women writers in television, but if she has a passion for the 1950s, it wasn't on show.  Storylines were wrapped up neatly enough, but with careful 21st Century sensibilities and without any real sense of climax.  The horse race satire was too long and frankly dull and the flat revelations about Ruth Elmes were uninvolving to viewers who had glimpsed her only briefly in episode one.

A second series is apparently planned, set in 1957.  Lets hope that if it continues to be dogged by 'Mad Men' comparisons, it is able to live up to them this time and show a strong, unsentimental love of what it's portraying, rather than a trite trip through dramatic cliches.


Oh and we read that Rafe Spall is proud of his performance in 'The Shadow Line'.  He also says he admires Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis, which explains a lot.  You can act, Mr Spall, but please keep it a wee bit smaller?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Politics

After posting yesterday , we looked around and saw other reviews prompted by the halfway mark of episode 3.  Opinions vary, unsurprisingly, with general positives about its style and cast and some negatives about its being slightly flat and the historical inaccuracies.  So far, so expected and fair.

What disturbed were the many sneering jibes about the BBC, or more specifically the BBC's 'woolly liberal' tag.  We agree wholeheartedly that many dramas - including this one - have essentially modern characters in period dress, and that it is neither accurate nor helpful to depict falsehoods as fact, even within the confines of a drama's 'internal reality'.  However, it genuinely didn't occur to us to assume that the programme makers had some kind of political axe to grind here, and it's both distasteful and worrying that some loud posters (loud onscreen, anyway) are so quick to be so scathing.

Perhaps we're naive, and certainly (Ali) must claim some bias as an ex-BBC employee, but before the jeering mob leap into action, let it just be said that knocking the BBC is an occupational pastime for most of its employees - bad management, overpriced canteen, terrible output (in other departments, of-course), dingy workspaces, rubbish studio equipment etc.  In that sense, little has changed since the 1950s, we would guess, except that modern employees are more vociferous in their moans and complaints.  What most staff also seemed to share, though, was a commitment to public broadcasting generally and a belief in trying to produce the best and most eclectic output possible.  The results are hit-and-miss, unsurprisingly, and pretty much anything that espouses a political point of view via a sympathetic or unsympathetic character could be accused of being propaganda.  If there is left-leaning at the Corporation, it didn't stop them falling foul of a Labour administration, nor did it prevent them allowing the BNP a slot on 'Question Time'.

We groan about licence fee rises as much as the next person, but imagine life without public service broadcasting, or just visit a country without it.  Why quibble about paying less than the average lottery player spends on losing tickets each year for hours of programmes, some of which are undeniably entertaining, educational and excellent television.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Too Many Telephones - The Hour Pt 3

I'm liking the way The Hour is progressing (writes Dan).

The look - certainly the look of the people - feels right, and the plot is progressing a lot faster than lots of other dramas, especially Mad Men.

However one TWNH point is that there are too many telephones!  There would never be a telephone in a guest's bathroom in a big house in the 1950s.  Heck, even in Dallas the house only had one phone, and that was in America in the 1980s!  The scenes with Freddie on the phone to the office, checking up on Kish, shouldn't have happened - the writer should have found another way to manage the way the story moved forward.  It's just a sign that writers these days find it very hard to write for a world before mobile phones.

However that's not enough to put us off - we're still watching!

Ahem!  Ali has one quibble with the above, namely the look of the people, and particularly one person: Bel.  She looks wrong.  She lacks enough hair laquer, her face is au naturel pale, with dewy eyes and lips, and her underwear, as seen last night, is clearly not the provider of staunch support favoured by 1950s women.  To say she looks like a 21st Century girl at a vintage party would be an insult to the many party-goers who take serious trouble to create a bona fide period look.  Bel resembles Peter Pan's Wendy, adrift on a news set, minding adult-sized, perennially lost boys.

This of-course is a symptom of that strange old assumption by programme makers that audiences can't or won't understand that other eras had different beliefs, tastes and ways of doing things.  Hence the 1970s-made dramas set in WWII with... 1970s hairstyles and, more recently, the frankly terrible 'The Tudors' which ditched codpieces (and not just because the ludicrously youthful Henry VIII was forever bedding wenches) and head-dresses presumably so that viewers would, like, y'know, get it that these were real dudes.  The only characters generally allowed to wear something perfectly in keeping with the era which is alien to modern eyes are those we are meant to dislike or laugh at.  Julian Rhind-Tutt thus has appalling glasses and Freddie's geeky junior sports the kind of knitwear only found on dated knitting patterns and the odd uber-hip catwalk.

We could even go further and say this extends to casting.  Bel is meant to be late 20s and the inspiration for her character is cited as Grace Wyndham Goldie, who was influential in BBC news in the 1950s and 1960s.  She'd joined the BBC in 1944, aged 44.  Never mind her achievements, who wants to watch a plain, middle-aged, slightly dumpy woman?  So in the interests of a pretty face, pretty dresses and some sex, we get an anachronism.

That said, it is at least edging towards integration of the spy/murder plot.  There are those who praise 'Mad Men' for its slow pace and lack of action, but while I don't dislike those elements, it does sometimes drag and lack focus.  I'm still hopeful that 'The Hour' will strike a balance between its soapy relationship storylines and conspiracy thriller, which would make it a better thing than the likes of either 'Mad Men' or the too-numerous cop procedurals.