Television Review

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The Independent Culture
IF YOU'RE looking for an example of television's flighty affections, you could hardly do better than its relationship with Diana. Two years after the extraordinary orgy of brow- beating sentimentality that greeted her death, she seems to have been almost completely forgotten. The anniversary was marked only tangentially by Secret History (C4) in a film about a distant relative, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who died in 1806.

The premise of the film was that Georgiana's life somehow prefigured Diana's. She was married young to an eligible but rather starchy man who was already entangled with another woman; she was a renowned beauty and leader of fashion, a woman of immense personal charm; she had, probably, an eating disorder along the lines of bulimia; she was constantly discussed in the press; and her funeral was a grand public occasion. Sound familiar?

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. To make the case that these were parallel lives, the film had to resort to a good deal of awkward anachronism. The very title, "The People's Duchess", was an example - as if popular celebrity in the days before television and the universal franchise bore the slightest relationship to popular celebrity today. We heard about "the paparazzi scenting blood", and in the film that illustrated the commentary, in which actors in period costume mummed episodes in the duchess's life, when the talk turned to possible drug abuse, we saw people avidly snorting lines of brown powder, as if snuff were the Regency's coke.

The language of the commentary tried to stress the resemblance by showing Georgiana as a victim, with talk of there being "three in the Devonshire marriage", of the young duchess being "exposed" to the vice of gambling. But really, this didn't wash. Georgiana was a mover and shaker, who clearly relished the cut and thrust of political life; and far from being a young martyr, she carried on cutting and thrusting until she was nearly 50, which was pretty good for the times. All this rather spoiled what was, at bottom, a well-made and jolly introduction to the politics and high life of the period.

Welcome to Australia (ITV) was one of the sobering, indignant tirades John Pilger specialises in - this time drawing a contrast between the shiny, optimistic face Australia is showing to the world in preparation for the Olympics, and the shabby cold shoulder it has presented to aboriginal sportsmen like Wally McArthur, a brilliant sprinter passed over in favour of far slower white runners.

This led to a more general discussion of Australia's treatment of aborigines: the mortality rate for aboriginal children is three times that for white children; life expectancy is 25 years less than for white people; suicide among the young has become an epidemic. As usual, Pilger has right on his side; but as usual, he makes it hard to sympathise with his case. He sees things in black and white, and fails to understand that most of us need some greyness in order to cope. You start apathetic; by the end, you're apathetic but a tad more guilty. I guess it's a start.