INSIDE THE TUBE

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The Independent Culture
Our love affair with costume drama knows no bounds. As we wait with baited breath for not one, but two new Dickens adaptations from the BBC - Tony Marchant, author of the acclaimed Holding On, is writing a version of Great Expectations, while John Sullivan, the man behind Only Fools and Horses, is penning his reading of David Copperfield - news reaches us of more Corporation dramas heavy on the corsets and carriages.

Based on the bestseller by Stella Tillyard, Aristocrats features Geraldine Somerville from Cracker (top), Serena Gordon (Insiders), Anne Marie Duff (Amongst Women) and Jodhi May (Last of the Mohicans) as four sisters from one of the poshest families in 18th-century England. One elopes with a senior politician, one gives birth to 22 children, one marries Ireland's richest man, and the other flirts with the future King of England, George III. All in all, quite a family.

More aristocrats appear in The American, a single drama for transmission on BBC2. In Michael Hastings' (Tom and Viv) version of the novel by Henry James, American actor Matthew Modine (Birdy, Married to the Mob) takes the lead as Christopher Newman, whose love for the stand-offish Claire de Bellegarde (Aisling O'Sullivan) is blocked by her possessive mother (Diana Rigg). Rigg (above right) comments that: "Madame de Bellegarde is an irresistible role. On the surface, she is the image of a sophisticated aristocrat, but underneath she is a desperate soul who will stop at nothing to keep hold of all that she believes in."

All in all, it looks set to be a pretty profitable time for the suppliers of period bonnets and bustles.

Drama of a rather less conventional nature is provided by This End of the Ballroom, a new eight-parter from Channel 4. In what is believed to be a first for a mainstream British television drama, all the main characters are gay. Set in Manchester's gay village, it centres on the triangular relationship between Stuart (Aidan Gillen from Mojo), a spoilt little rich kid, Vince (Craig Kelly), his best friend with a self-esteem problem, and the wild and dangerous Nathan (Charlie Hannun). Unsurprisingly, the series has already attracted (unfavourable) headlines in the tabloids. So Channel 4 must be doing something right.

Also rather out of left field comes Lesley Garrett - Tonight! This new BBC1 series, to be broadcast next month, has the celebrated soprano (below left) teaming up to sing duets with some bizarre partners. She joins Gary Barlow, the former lead singer with Take That!, for his own arrangement of Chopin's "So Deep is the Night", and collaborates with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band for a rendition of the Largo from Dvorak's "New World" Symphony - "Goin' Home". Bringing music to the masses or the latest example of the BBC dumbing down?

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