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TV UK, 3 October

This week, Gordon Brown imitated David Morrissey.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

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No shortage of material this week, following a weekend of scintillating fact-based drama. Of course, fact-based means something very different in each case.

Let’s start with Byron (BBC2), a dramatisation of the legendary party animal’s life, that all but missed out the fact that he was a poet. For the purposes of this story, Byron’s poetry was little more than a source of fame, and perhaps a sort of license for all that incest and anal sex.

The BBC made up for this to some extent by putting on something about the poetry after Byron on Saturday night, for those who care for that sort of thing. This week’s Eroica, in contrast (BBC2, Saturday at 9pm), puts Beethoven’s third symphony centre stage, consigning the maestro’s unsuccessful love life to the minor role enjoyed by the poetry in Byron. It’s a funny old world, as this Byron might as well have said (1).

Anyway, a little into the second episode I gave up, and switched over to Boudicca (ITV1), the latest offering from the maestro of literary adaptations, Andrew Davies. Boudicca was not a literary adaptation, and it showed.

First, though, a world on the title. Boudicca is now the preferred term for the ancient warrior queen formerly known as Boadicea. And in this case at least, as with Mumbai, Myanmar and Beijing, the use of the ‘correct’ name is largely an attempt to assert an ethnic identity. This one seems a little less convincing than the others, though, since the idea of a British identity predating the Romans is a patent absurdity.

Indeed, judging from the accents, the British were Irish and the Romans were English. Go figure. Actually, let me save you the bother – Boudicca was made for international distribution, and in the global language of Hollywood, Irish means loveable and authentic, while English means evil, dastardly, and probably gay.

I missed the much-hyped rape scene at the beginning, which presumably was the only means other than red hair and Irish accents by which Davies could muster sympathy for the barbarians. I certainly found them all very grating. The assertion at one point that the Romans could have taken huge chunks of Africa with the same resources with which they were failing to conquer the plucky Britons was almost enough to have me signing up for Black History Month (but not quite).

The Deal (Channel 4) was much more entertaining, even if it was a thinly disguised party political broadcast for Gordon Brown. Dramatists tend to avoid using famous characters who are still alive, but Peter Morgan shamelessly put a fictionalised Blair and Brown on screen right on the eve of the Labour Party conference. And in fact it was the frisson of excitement derived from the politics that made the drama work.

Because in its own terms, a story about two men with very similar political ideas who fall out over who gets to modernise the Labour Party is not that exciting, and while Morgan made much of the difference in temperament of the two men, that wasn’t really enough to convince. But who could see The Deal on Saturday and then watch Gordon Brown addressing the Labour Party conference the following Monday without thinking of David Morrissey’s performance?

If Byron took real people and events and used them for a silly period romp, and Boudicca for a juvenile and cod-nationalistic silly period romp, The Deal was more concerned with making mischief in contemporary British politics. The accidental satire here is that contemporary British politics are so flimsy that such a drama really does have an effect, provoking reams of comment in the papers – even though nobody outside politics and the media watched it.

Anyway, next week it’s Hitler (The Rise of Evil, Channel 4, Saturday at 9pm), and you can’t go wrong with Hitler….

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV

(1) See my review of Eroicaon Culture Wars

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Topics Culture

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