Television Review

I DON'T think you could accuse The Disabled Century (BBC2) of prettifying its subject. The first part of David Hevey's trilogy was full of disturbing images of disability: a hand with a stump for a thumb, a dead eye staring white from a head gnarled like a lump of wood, a face so wizened it looked like a mask or a doll, bodies twisted or foreshortened.

And the pictures were matched by stories of pain and humiliation. One man told of his boyhood in the Thirties, living on the fourth floor of a block of flats: it took him two minutes to descend the stairs, five minutes to get back; every Saturday morning he would crawl a mile and a half to see the children's pictures at the cinema. But these were the good times, when he was "just one of the kids, and that was that. They never queried why I couldn't walk or anything." When war came, and the able-bodied children were evacuated to the countryside, he was packed off to an institution and stuck in a wheelchair; that was when he realised he was different.

A woman described being strapped to a cradle for two and a half years, to try to correct the curvature of her spine; a man remembered being rejected for countless jobs because he was "too short" - too short, even, to be a watchmaker. A deaf woman recalled setting off for a seaside holiday with her mother: it was only when the train door shut and her mother stayed on the platform that she knew she was being sent away to an institution (this last story I found particularly saddening, with its chilly echoes of Nazi Germany).

Given the stories, the programme's sometimes angry tone, its unwillingness to permit optimism, was understandable. But the indignation was undermined by the mannered, fidgety filming: an old man who had spent most of his life locked away in institutions because he was "learning disabled" - the careful phraseology is sometimes frustrating in its vagueness - was filmed wearing a dunce's cap. It was hard to see how that prankish indignity did anything to alleviate the other indignities he had suffered. The film switched between colour and black-and-white, speeded up and slowed down, while the camera pushed itself up under a man's chin, leering up his nostril.

This level of trickery was distracting, and looked distrustful: did Hevey not trust these people's words and faces to tell the stories alone? Did he not trust the viewer to watch them, with all their flaws? Perhaps he was right. But still, The Disabled Century granted the disabled a voice - Paul Scofield's voice, no less - and it cajoled the viewer into listening.

Another disadvantaged group is starting to dominate Ellen (C4). I haven't watched this programme since she came out as a lesbian - not from any principle, you understand; it's been a matter of awkward time-slot and a fear that it isn't going to be funny any more. The core of Ellen's comedy is the way that basic frankness and sarcasm are held in check by cowardice and a desperate need to be liked, so that every conversation seems like a constant evasion. Now we know a lot of what she was evading. Remember Moonlighting? Years of amusing flirting between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd; then they finally got it on, and the whole thing went to pot. Consummations are to be avoided.

Last night's episode concerned Ellen's worries that she was being defined solely by her sexuality. Under pressure from a friend, she hired a plumber out of "Gay Yellow Pages", who flooded her kitchen. At her coming out party, she found herself saddled with gay beer and even gay ice, while gay-conscious guests refused to eat her nachos because they were made by a gay-unfriendly company. It's all a bit ironic, really: Ellen the character steadfastly resisted being sidetracked by her sexuality; Ellen the show threatens to be completely derailed by the topic.

Among all the issues and learning going on, though, there were still some excellent gags: at the party, Ellen's repellent colleague Joe - crew-cut, thick-rimmed glasses, vast paunch - held a group of women spellbound with his stories. Dippy Audrey leaned over: "You are aware, Joseph, that your anecdotes, though highly amusing, will not make these women find you attractive in that way?" Joe snarled out of the corner of his mouth: "Get lost, Audrey. They think I'm a chick." It's a hard battle, but hugs and learning are being kept at bay.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us