Crowning glories and crackling dialogue on the cusp of change

Sat, Aug 25, 2012, 01:00

TV REVIEW:YOU THINK YOU’D be safe watching the nine o’clock News (RTÉ One) on Monday night, that you could zap in and zap out without seeing a minute of the Rose of Tralee (RTÉ One, Monday and Tuesday), that annual groundhog day, spirit-sapping piece of TV.

But no, the Rose of Tralee oozed its cheesiness even into the news bulletins. Eileen Dunne wrapped up the headlines and teed up the weather forecast; then there was a shaky bit of editing and without so much as the weather logo we were at the Dome in Tralee, with meteorologist Gerald Fleming wearing a bow tie and tuxedo saying, “The warm sunshine brought the roses out into full bloom.” Really. As if the forecast isn’t depressing enough. He did his trademark wink at the end and the audience clapped and cheered for a cold front and rain on Friday.

Next year, Dunne could be in a ghastly bridesmaid’s dress belting out Molly Malone between the headlines and enduring Dáithí Ó Sé’s Christmas-cracker jokes. With viewing figures on the slide, anything could happen.

CORROSIVE MALEcompetitiveness was the theme of The Last Weekend (UTV, Sunday), a thriller about two university mates whose lives took different directions but who, 20 years on, were still friends and still settling old scores. Rupert Penry-Jones, TV drama’s go-to-posh-bloke, was Ollie: successful barrister, smug git, pressed tennis kit, married to gorgeous blonde Genevieve O’Reilly; Shaun Evans was Ian, primary school teacher, wispy beard, rusting Fiesta, married to homely Claire Keelan. All off-the-peg winner/loser characters from the great big book of drama stereotypes.

The action took place over a bank-holiday weekend when the couples get together in a country house in Suffolk and began with Ollie revealing to Ian that he was dying of a brain tumour. This might not be true. What we do know is something bad happened because Ian soon became an onscreen narrator, talking straight to camera, describing events teasingly, and building suspense by providing just the right amount of detail before the action cuts back to that sunny weekend. The three-part series is an adaptation of Blake Morrison’s novel, but having such an intrusive narrator felt more like watching a reading from the book than a dramatic interpretation, and that jarred. And Ian as narrator wore an army-surplus jacket, which is wardrobedesigner shorthand for psycho.

There are two more episodes to go but the suspense element was already diluted by knowing that the mild-mannered teacher was the baddie.

THE NEW BBC-HBOcollaboration Parade’s End (BBC Two, Friday) has been called “Downton for brainy people” and it’s probably inevitable that any period drama, especially one set just before the first World War and featuring the British upper classes in their stately piles is doomed to be compared with Julian Fellowes’s wildly successful and totally addictive bit of fluff.

But this, adapted by Tom Stoppard from the Ford Madox Ford quartet of novels, was really rather different. The huge budget ensured it looked gorgeous, but the complexity of the characters and their relationships, the crackling dialogue and the real sense of an era on the cusp of change made it compelling.

It might have taken fans of the novel five minutes to adjust to the slightly creepy-looking Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens – in the novels he is fatter and oafish – but he was brilliant as the watchful, old-fashioned and morally rigid aristocratic statistician who, typically, did what he considered the right thing by marrying the flighty and wilful Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), while knowing the baby she was carrying was, in all likelihood, not his.

“People adore the whiff of sex coming off our crowd,” said Sylvia over breakfast while reading about the latest upper-class scandal in the newspaper. The sense of class division based on mores as well as money was skilfully created. “The hotel notepaper is simply shaming,” said Sylvia, sitting in a French hotel to which she had flitted with her latest lover. She was writing to Tietjens, begging permission to come home after she realised there wasn’t much fun in being unfaithful if your husband didn’t seem to care.

By the end of episode one, Tietjens had fallen for a suffragette, the gorgeous Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), a modern woman full of scruples, ready for the new changed century. And the recognisable cast included Anne-Marie Duff (she was having a good week, and giving a very different performance as a mother of a gang member in a grim sink estate in Jimmy McGovern’s gritty drama Accused: Mo’s Story, BBC One, Tuesday); Stephen Graham, Janet McTeer, Miranda Richardson, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Palmer and Rupert Everett, barely recognisable behind a beard as Tietjens’s best man, who advised him on the way to the wedding not to be “trapped by the Papist bitch”.

I WAS SORRYI had watched Cutting Edge: Endgames of a Psychopath (Channel 4, Monday) because even the passive act of looking at the documentary felt oddly like being manipulated by Ian Brady, the Moors murderer who has spent nearly half a century of incarceration unrepentant and attempting to psychologically manipulate and gain power over all who have come into contact with him. The pre-publicity for the film promoted the claim that Brady had given a letter to his mental-health advocate Jackie Powell. The letter, to be opened after his death, was purported to detail where the body of his fifth victim, 12-year-old Keith Bennett, was buried.

In a desperately poignant piece of timing, the child’s mother Winnie Johnson, who had for all that time begged Brady to reveal the whereabouts of her son’s body, died last weekend. The film left too many questions unanswered. What are the powers, obligations and qualifications of a mental-health advocate? Why did Powell feel it appropriate to take part in a documentary, other than her apparent enjoyment of the limelight? Was there ever really a letter? Powell said she gave it back to Brady, unopened. He has been on hunger strike for more than 12 years, but is being force-fed to keep him alive. But why feed his ego by making a film about him?

Get stuck into . . .Some crime dramas are so corny they seem like spoofs of the genre, but this intentionally funny one A Touch of Cloth, starring John Hannah and Suranne Jones (left) seems worth a look

( Sky 1, Sunday).

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