It's hard to give a damn

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"AN EPIC journey of two people in love, and a tale of passion, pain, death and reconciliation," though not necessarily in that order, Scarlett (Sky) is longer than that other great costume tragedy, Hamlett, and depends on another darn man taking f oreverto make up his mind. After the first four of its eight hours, the sequel to Gone With the Wind could certainly claim to have Returned with Flatulence.

Back at Tara, Miss Scarlett (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) is plain devastated that Mammy the maid is "gittin' ready to lay down her worldly burdens". This cuddly personage, so useful for injecting Negro spirituality and comic eye-rolling into the original, is clearly dyin' of shock. And who wouldn't upon learning that all these years later, after a worldwide hunt, one man, and one man alone, was considered big enough to assume the mantle of Clark Gable's Rhett: Timothy Dalton.

The actor who quit James Bond for more challenging parts certainly has a fight on his hands here, not least with the accent, which commutes between Atlanta and Aldershot. Dalton has the right wolfish smile, but it is set in a wolf's lean jaw. Gable's new-moon grin stretched across a spherical teddy's face, producing the matchless combination of lethal and loveable. But Scarlett don't mind the different nurn. She lurves Rhett whatever he looks like and tries to win him back by telling him the plot of the earlier film: "I wander sometarms if things mighta bin different if ar chile haddna dard." Rhett doesn't think so; he meditates on divorce in a whorehouse, where the residents fall to the floor and pedal their bloomers in the air like a Janet Reger prom o for the Tour de France.

This Scarlett and Rhett might not have the chemistry of Gable and Vivien Leigh, but they have plenty of geometry. They keep forming love triangles with real squares. To sustain the will-they-won't-they? story at such length, every angle is investigated

and some are more obtuse than others. After Rhett has a caddish change of heart ("I must not and will never see you again"), the pregnant Scarlett flees to Ireland to discover her roots and happily turns out to be related to the entire cast of The Snapper. But there is a serpent in Eden. Yes, it's what the blurb calls "the newest and cruellest man in her life, English aristocrat, Richard, Earl of Fenton". Better known as Sean Bean, the yummiest, bummiest, unlikeliest toff you ever did see.

Poor Whalley-Kilmer. It is one thing to fend off a dastardly Earl, quite another to keep the iniquitous script at bay: "Omilward," she cries, "is that cowardly disgustin' creature Scarlett O'Hara? No, it is nawt. Scarlett goes out and gits what she wants!" Well, not always. What she gits is tied to a kitchen table while the Irish granny brandishes a soda bread knife for an impromptu Caesarian. Hooray, it's a girl! But what to call it? Purple? Vermilion? Puce? Frankly, my dears, it's hard to giv e a damn.

It was bad luck for Tim Dalton that you got a look at the original Rhett during Hollywood Kids (ITV). Gable's daughter, Judy Lewis, never knew who her father was, and it seemed cruel that viewers could guess so easily on seeing that smile. Lewis's mother, the star Loretta Young, had the manners to introduce herself to her baby, but not before dumping her in an orphanage and then "adopting" her at 19 months in a stunt to save her image. As Jilly Hafenrichter's film showed, such casual selfishness is comm on in a city where children will always be a threat to that particular species of adult which lays claim to perpetual youth.

There were many such intriguing ideas in this documentary, but most got strangled at birth. As with its precursor, Hollywood Women, the cutting style suggested that one of the brats had gotten into the editing suite. Occasionally, the karate chops workedto great comic effect, as when we zapped from Frank Zappa's daughter solemnly introducing herself - "My name is Moon Unit" - to her brothers Dweezil and Alimet and then back to Moon who explained "Dweezil was named after my mother's baby toe ". He should count himself lucky he wasn't called Ingrown.

The Creator, it seems, enjoys making mischief with famous genes, giving daughters like Victoria Sellers the faces of their "characterful" fathers rather than their gorgeous mothers. Jumpy survivors of multiple marriages revealed everything about a society where the extended family has become so elastic that one boy went to a party and tried to pick up a girl who turned out to be his half-sister. The film tried to press the view of Hollywood as another planet where different rules obtain. But Pia Zadora,a raddled Barbie reprimanding her stolid little girl ("No, no, that's not nice. Don't act like a child. Smile we're on television"), was surely just a glossier version of any pushy parent in front of the Polaroid on Clacton beach. Hafenrichter h as dug up some great material here, but her style of presentation is trapped on the surface. The series is in danger of being as restless and empty as the world it seeks to satirise.

Like Henry's plan to bump off his wife, The Wimbledon Poisoner (BBC1) couldn't fail, could it? There was Nigel Williams adapting his own blissfully comic novel of the same name, and the great Alison Steadman playing Elinor, the spouse who has taken the kind of assertiveness class that can make trains run on time, never mind husbands. Henry's plan does go wrong, though, mainly because Elinor won't swallow it - it being the thalium in the chicken breast and subsequently the bleach in the funeral punch. Asfor viewers, they may have had difficulty swallowing Robert Lindsay's Henry. When Elinor booms at her "funny little man" what we are meant to see is a creature of the same ilk as Dame Edna's vanquished bridesmaid, Madge, who afte r years of stoic evasion decides to slay the great She Cow. What we actually see is Robert Lindsay, a sexy actor unsuccessfully hiding behind a pair of specs. Lindsay is more seductive than Steadman which fatally skews the murder plot. Why would this Hen ry have bothered killing his wife, when he could have legged it with just about anybody else's? For that matter why would he have read aloud from the book of poisons in the public library? The internal monologues feel odd forced out into the open like th is. Where Williams really scores is in the face-to-face exchanges: no one has a better ear for the way that some graduates of therapy use their needs as a truncheon.

On Newsnight (BBC2), a lifelong Dudley West Conservative said he was tempted to vote Labour: "That Lionel Blair has a lot going for him." Yes indeed. Super hair, makes a splendid song and dance about things. Martin Chuzzlewit (BBC2) departed amidst controversy about its ending. The triple wedding option remained a figment of adaptor David Lodge's imagination than God. I could think of none better than the one we got: dear Tom Pinch telling his sister that not everyone lives happily ever after, that she shouldn't think of him "as if I were a character in a book". For a moment, it sounded like post-modernism before its time but, in truth, it was just Tom's modest way of telling us, "I am real". And we believed him.