review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
A pattern of segregation seems to be emerging in African Footsteps (BBC2), a programme which consists of two short travel films. The first, slightly more extended, has a distinctly touristic air and comes complete with tour-guide facts; the second, shorter and more sombre, involves some form of homecoming and is unadorned, as if a fact sheet would be irreverent. So, last week the opener was provided by Antony Sher, visiting Tangier for the first time with his partner Greg Doran - it was a kind of gay version of Frank and Nesta Bough, except that Frank probably wouldn't have lit up a hookah pipe stuffed with kif (not in front of the cameras, at any rate). Sher was a little grumpy to find that the city of his imagination, all chiaroscuro and winding alleys, had been overlit - the beach in particular, once a broad arena of sexual possibility, was now drenched in an unromantic glare. "I think you're over-reacting," said Greg as they walked away. "I've made a career out of over-reacting," Sher pointed out unanswerably.

In the second half a beautiful Ethiopian model returned to accompany her grandmother on a religious pilgrimage: a film which introduced you to an entirely new landscape, rather than one trodden flat by generations of writers. It also made its own wry comment on the African diaspora - the last time the model had attended such a service, she said, was in the Ethiopian Orthodox church on the Upper West Side.

This week Timothy Spall went back to Zimbabwe, a country he last visited when filming White Hunter, Black Heart with Clint Eastwood. His first words on screen were "Oh gawd" - uttered as he staggered from a five-star tent to stare at a hippo. His own manner was distinctly hippopotamine - out of his element and comically ponderous as a result. To his horror, his trip to the Victoria Falls coincided with an Edwardian weekend, in which the local white community wistfully reconstructed the elegance of empire. "When we do a Gaiety's we serve fish and chips wrapped in newspaper," said an excitable woman. "And... import the Times." Spall harrumphed and took himself off for a tour of shabeens and African discos with a local friend, though his investigations into the real Zimbabwe were a touch underpowered. "I now realise," he concluded, "that what I really, really love about this place is its African-ness." Understandable, given its geographical location, but not exactly enlightening.

You got a little further with the second film, in which the poet Jack Mapanje returned to Malawi from exile - a trip he thought he would never be able to make safely. There were tantalising possibilities here - when a large black Mercedes swept up, it turned out to contain Mpanje's old cell-mate, now Minister for Information after some unexplained political paroxysm, but still not above getting down in the ground to demonstrate the cramped contortions into which they had been chained. You watched as Malawi's Minister for Information, wrists tucked beneath his drawn- up knees, rolled helplessly sideways in the dust. Unfortunately there either wasn't enough time or enough freedom for Mapanje to say what he thought of his homeland now.

Brighton is a wonderful location for a thriller, as writers before Tony McHale have discovered. It offers everything from penny-in-the-slot guignol to a useful population of transients - domestic refugees, students, Goths and tattooists. It's too early to say, though, whether Resort to Murder (BBC1) is going to live up to its setting; at the moment there's a lot of distracted wandering about to minor chords and some trying departures from realism - it seems unlikely that a character can just wander into the local morgue and take a quick shufti through the fridges. Definitely more style than substance at the moment, but plenty of the former if that's enough for you.

Comments