TELEVISION / Dean's her partner and she'll cry if she wants to

Click to follow
FACING THE MUSIC (BBC 1) pretended to be the Torvill and Dean souvenir video for about 30 seconds, its titles full of gilded curlicues and roses on the ice. Then it got down to business with a sly collection of street names, evidence, I take it, of Nottingham's civic pride. (He got two Closes while she ended up with a Close and a Drive, which presumably means something in the complex code of municipal signage.) It was a clever opening, hinting at the snobbery that surrounds ice dancing - the feeling that it is a faintly suburban activity - without being snotty about the hold Torvill and Dean have on the public imagination.

The documentary that followed, a detailed account of the skaters' return to competition, was equally clear-sighted - properly curious about the business of creating a routine that hovers between art and sport, but never forgetting that it is a business above all. 'They're going to be very marketable commodities,' their manager said during the run-up to the Olympics. It had cost them somewhere in the region of pounds 130,000 to enter (money that went on rink hire, coaches, music arrangements and costumes) but he hoped to recoup at least a million. The Olympics, it was clear, were an advertising medium not a sporting event.

The tedious granny in Ice Dance (repeated the previous evening on BBC 1) would have muttered darkly about this. 'Conflict can change summat,' she moaned in Stephen Lowe's play about two young skaters following in Torvill and Dean's blade-marks, 'Competition accepts the rules for a chance of a piece of the cake.' The granny was a pain, to be honest, speaking with the thudding radicalism of an Open University course on working-class culture. The play didn't quite work, either, though it did offer the unusual sight of a leading man (Andrew Fletcher) who only changed his expression twice in 90 minutes. He was like Eeyore with skates, though he did manage a wan smile when it became clear that love would triumph over compromise.

Ice Dance drew on the sexual suggestiveness of the event - its aesthetic of swooning and surging, the way it always travels to a climax - but it didn't do anything very interesting with it, leading you to a rather predictable consummation. Facing the Music was more intriguing in its depiction of such partnerships. The tabloids were always excited by the possibility that Torvill and Dean might be partners off the ice as well, and it would be high- minded to say that the thought doesn't occur to most people, watching them perform. Ice dancers can say 'We're just good friends' but they can't honestly say 'There's nothing physical about it.'

Filmed during practice sessions, Torvill and Dean certainly looked like a married couple - long and unhappily married. If a reckless entrepreneur wants to tour Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Ice] he won't have to look far for his principles. 'Don't act stupid,' said Dean, with the needling intonation of a husband looking to start a fight. And when it worked and she cried, he exploded: 'It's no good fucking crying,' he snapped, skating off into the distance, 'I've got no sympathy. Don't cry on me.' Off the ice, interestingly, he deferred to her in conversation and she would straighten his hair with casual intimacy, evidence that the closeness of the relationship took other forms than endured


On the ice though her surrender was complete. 'He's very forceful, very dominant,' she said, with the apologetic smile of a long-suffering wife. 'If it is Jayne's mistake I'll tell her,' he said, before adding, after a little pause, 'and if it's mine I'll tell her she made a mistake too.' It seemed inconceivable that such laborious nagging could result in a united expression of grace, but it did, proving that the chemistry of such associations obeys no normal laws. Eddie Mirzoeff's documentary (itself pretty elegant in its movements) was a classic study of the ugly effort it takes to appear beautifully effortless.