LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
Tackling the big issues that matter to today's Britain, Network First (ITV) broadcast the first of a two-part account of the reign of Queen Victoria, presented by Prince Michael of Kent. He certainly has the grand manner Prince Michael; he looks as if he's stepped out of a Senior Service cigarette card series called "Men of the Dreadnoughts". But there is something else there besides - a kinship which slightly undermines the patrician gravity; there is a faint but unmistakable echo of Tim Nice- But-Dim, Harry Enfield's caricature of well-born mental vacancy. I'm sure any similarity stops at the hollowed vowels (at least it's only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt), but it still has a slightly odd effect on the presentation: "When he died," Prince Michael says of Albert's early departure, "his broken-hearted queen was left to mourn her husband for the remaining 40 years of her reign". You half-expected him to stare mournfully round the mausoleum at Frogmore and add a bathetic follow-up - "Jolly sad, rahlly."

The effect fades fairly rapidly, however, pushed aside by the two obvious advantages of hiring Prince Michael as the presenter on such a project. He can get inside all the houses and, should the programme need a novel twist of intimacy, he can supply you with snapshots from his own family album. Last night's episode, which dealt with Victoria's accession to the throne and her passionate marriage to Albert, included a poignant photograph dedicated by Victoria, "To Papa", two months after her husband's death, as well as an image of Albert on his death bed, not seen before on television. The price you pay for this access is an unequivocally royalist account of recent British history. By the end of last night's programme you could be forgiven for thinking Prince Albert had erected the Crystal Palace himself, with a little additional help from the Chatsworth head gardener (not to mention winning the Crimean war and nudging the social conscience of an increasingly prosperous ruling class).

Even allowing for familial loyalty, though, it was clear that Albert was a figure of unusual talents - a man who managed to convert himself from ornamental appendage into an effective instrument of power. Victoria was so dependent on him and so determined to have his worth recognised, that she built an extra door in her Privy Counsel room at Osborne - she and her husband could enter the room simultaneously, thus defeating the iron hand of protocol. This architectural slight of hand was demonstrated in use by two actors, who played the royal couple in a series of dramatic reconstructions of debatable worth - Victoria's account of salmon spearing on the Balmoral estate was illustrated by a man wrestling with a large dead fish, a scene that was less evocative of royal leisure than of the heyday of Monty Python, who were also fond of Prince Michael's great-great- grandma.

Touching Evil (ITV), yet another spin on the disfunctional detective, blends the pleasure of psychological acuity with a big set of boys' toys, like voice-analysing computers. In this it probably owes more to films like Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs than to recent television predecessors (though it is slightly unnerving to realise that the hero's name is a compound of Cracker, from Cracker, and Regan, from The Sweeney). Robson Green plays Creegan, a man low on social skills but strong on brilliant flashes of empathy. "It's not him," he says with flat certainty, as police move in on a suspect who is virtually invisible beneath a pile of incriminating evidence. It isn't of course, but it doesn't make you feel good - like most of Creegan's colleagues you just end up hoping that something will trip up this charmless know-all. Last night's episode contained a terrific performance by Sean Gallagher as the Man Who Should Have Done It But Didn't and some fine close-ups of drip bags and medical equipment. It was also a tissue of implausibilities from beginning to end but if you're easy- going about that kind of thing then it passes the time stylishly enough.

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