Fiona Bruce in a Spitfire is a Brexiteer’s fever dream
Patrick Freyne: Antiques Roadshow delves in second World War jingoism while cats plan our demise
Fiona Bruce flies a Spitfire over Kent in a Pathé newsreel from the future. Or maybe it’s just the Antiques Roadshow. Photograph: BBC
Fiona Bruce is in a Spitfire flying over the weald of Kent. If you’re English you’ve definitely had that vision, the stirrings of a collective national consciousness as you slept. And then, if I know you, you woke up on the chalk cliffs of Dover, draped in a Union Jack, a saucepan on your head, a cricket bat in your hand, shouting racial epithets at seagulls and having strong opinions about cyclists.
Yes, Fiona Bruce in a Spitfire flying over the weald of Kent, is a Brexiteer’s fever dream, or a poem by John Betjeman or a Pathé newsreel from the future, when all Britain’s televisions are broken and they have no immigrants who know how to fix them or any trade deals with which to replace them. In this scenario England is probably losing a war with, I don’t know, Cornwall, and Fiona Bruce is the leader because she has the last Spitfire.
It is also the opening for the Antiques Roadshow Battle of Britain Special (Sunday, BBC One). Sadly, Bruce has no enemy “kills” as yet, for she is merely sampling the delights of mid-century warfare for entertainment purposes. In regular episodes of the Antiques Roadshow the plain people of Britain turn up to the grounds of what looks like Lord Summerisle’s estate only to have self-consciously eccentric men in bowties judge their ancestral tat. It is, as I’ve mentioned before, simultaneously delightful and very annoying for Irish people. You see, Irish people don’t have heirlooms because “someone” took them.
The Tories sell the Blitz spirit to the populace because they are planning to rain class war down on them from above like a libertarian, 21st-century Luftwaffe
For this special episode at Biggin Hill airfield there will be discussions of war memorabilia but no discussions of price because, for the Britons, the second World War is priceless. It’s the last time they knew for certain they were right. It’s like the last series of Breaking Bad, where it was okay to root for Walter White because his enemies were Nazis. Individually, the stories people tell about their personal artefacts in this programme are moving and sweet and human: The woman remembering the airmen who boarded with her mother when she was a child; the man who came from the Caribbean to fight fascism; the pilot who became a reluctant RAF poster boy; the tiny suitcase owned by a child evacuee from the Channel Islands; the warm-hearted cartoons in the sketchbook of a volunteer with the Women’s Voluntary Service. However, when you put the whole thing together with elegiac strings, repeated evocations of a stoical and noble national character and the notion that the Blitz was a unique malevolence and not something British airmen then revisited on German civilians tenfold, jingoism is the emergent property.
Or maybe I’m just projecting. It’s hard not to. The second World War has infected British politics nowadays to the extent that Tory policy is explicitly trying to return to a time when people had rickets, the NHS didn’t exist and having a building collapse on you wasn’t seen as unusual. In short, the Tories sell the Blitz spirit to the populace because they are planning to rain class war down on them from above like a libertarian, 21st-century Luftwaffe. And then what will save them? Fiona Bruce in a Spitfire flying over the weald of Kent may not be up to it.
Englishness is always more fun at the cultural margins. The Third Day (Tuesday, Sky Atlantic), a dreamy oddball work of folk horror, begins with Jude Law weeping in a forest, ritualistically sending a little boy’s T-shirt down a stream, arguing on the phone over some small-time political corruption and then coming to the rescue of a teenage girl who is trying to hang herself, before taking her across a causeway to the island of Osea. It’s a busy morning by anyone’s standards. Yet, if that’s going to happen to anyone it’s contemporary Jude Law. Can we stop for a moment to appreciate his face? He was once the most beautiful man in cinema but over the years his visage has morphed and en-weirdened and grown slightly drawn. He looks less like a leading man now and more like the most handsome teacher in a soon-to-be-shuttered convent in the midlands. Over time he has become a wonderfully lugubrious and charismatically uncanny character actor. He’s perfectly cast here as a sad-eyed stranger from the mainland happening upon a strange island community of culty weirdos who are planning their yearly paganistic festival, or, possibly, a visit from the Antiques Roadshow. All in all it reminds me a lot of when I have to leave my own mainland (Ireland) to go on reporting trips to the odd and eerie island next door. And also the Wicker Man, though I presume, with all the animal masks on display, that this is deliberate.
The Third Day has a very good cast. Law meets a creepily cheery barman played by Paddy Considine, his darker, angrier wife, played by Emily Watson and a hard-drinking American anthropologist played by Katherine Waterston. Supernatural forces are hinted at, threats are implied and events conspire to stop him leaving. This is the first of a seven-part series, the fourth episode, rather ambitiously, they plan to broadcast live, and the last three will focus on an interconnected story revolving around a different main character played by Naomie Harris. I like it a lot so far.
In Cat Tales: In From the Wild (Saturday, BBC4) boffins attempt to answer the following questions: “Where do cats come from? Why do we love them? What’s going on inside their heads? Can you train them? What will future cats look like?” Now, that’s the kind of current affairs show I can get behind. Forget Covid-19. Forget Level 2-and-a-bit. Forget Brexit. Forget Trump. What the hell is going on with cats? My cat has been engaged in a campaign of psychological warfare with me since the beginning of the pandemic. She tries to trip me up on the stairs, rips my favourite items of furniture and, I believe, but can’t prove, posts unkind comments under my articles on Facebook.
Yes, she pretends to have no curiosity about her heritage but, as I watch this show and various terrified-looking cat scientists explain how cats infiltrated our homes and manipulate us with their infant-like cries, she loses her air of haughty indifference and turns to me with a penetrating gaze. Anyway, if you’re reading this, can you send help urgently? If someone who sounds a bit like a cat says through the letter box that everything is fine, do not believe her.