Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE TROUBLE with Where Were You? (BBC1), a film about the extraordinary game between Argentina and England in the 1998 World Cup, was its worn sense of familiarity. In terms of drama, there had been An Evening With Gary Lineker. In terms of what-might-have-been England performances, well, we were spoilt for choice. Take your pick from Euro 96, Italia 90 or Mexico 86. All the elements were stale; in short, the trouble with Where Were You? was that we'd been here before.

ITV had been there before, too, with Tuesday night's hamfisted spoiler, When England Played Argentina. To the BBC's credit, its telling of the story was more stylish and eloquent, with an imaginative approach pinned to a funky Brit Pop collage. While ITV had Muriel Gray, someone I recognised from Coronation Street and the man from the National Grid, Where Were You? featured Ulrika Jonsson (who, poor lamb, didn't have a very enjoyable World Cup herself) and Mick Jagger. Neither were best qualified to comment. Ulrika, as she herself pointed out, is Swedish, while Mick evidently doesn't know much about football.

While it was understandable that both programmes picked from the same squad of dramatis personae - David Batty, Sol Campbell, Glenn Hoddle, referee Kim Nielsen - the fact that both programmes sometimes shared quotes showed a lack of depth. "It was stick your chest out time," Campbell told viewers two nights running. Alan Shearer, incredibly, was even blander than usual, while David Batty, certainly not the brightest player in the world, excelled himself. "I enjoyed every minute of it," the Newcastle brawn revealed. "Even the miss - I enjoyed it."

The drama of the game was in its scale, and this was something which a fast-paced resume failed to distil. What's more, after David Beckham was sent off, the dominant theme of the match was disappointment, while various commentators exaggerated the game's significance: quite what Brian Glanville was thinking when he described it as the Citizen Kane of football matches is beyond me. As David Batty and Paul Ince would agree, it was all about what was missing; in the case of Where Were You? it was a dramatic context. Undeniably, this match was about as astounding, epic and multi-layered as football gets. It is also true that it was the best contest of the World Cup. But the reason that the post-JFK Where Were You? model doesn't fit is that nothing was at stake: it wasn't the final or the semi-final; it wasn't even the quarter-final. Nothing was won or lost that night in an ultimately empty contest.

To use a football metaphor, the film was stronger going forward than tracking back. Its treatment of Michael Owen's staggering goal was spot- on. One sequence showed his run through midfield in elegant slow-motion then reverted, with a jolt, to real-time speed. It was a clever device to show both Owen's acceleration and the inherent beauty of the goal.

Behind Closed Doors (BBC2) gave one a chance to see men - and men's clubs in particular - as others must perceive them, with a delightful film about The University Women's Club in Mayfair. This women-only club accepts as members high-achieving types - ambassadors, actresses, editors, interesting people who might be able to do one another a favour some day. Like all clubs, it exists for the benefit of its own, and at times the film felt like a recruitment drive; although we weren't told how much it was to join or why the club was featuring on television, membership was evidently the film's passive premise.

"Whenever women have made a step forward, they've had to get together, and they need to be in places where there are no male structures," one member noted. It was an intellectually stimulating environment - the kind of place that might eject you for knitting. It looked splendid. I might encourage my mum to join so we can meet there for lunch.

As I once worked in a ski resort, I was interested in what War and Piste (BBC1) had to say about that most vacuous of lifestyles. After watching last night's episode, I was overcome with powerful feelings of nostalgia. Unfortunately, these were for the time before I sat down to watch it. Phwoar and Pissed would be a better title for a jumbled bundle of unappealing Sloaney stereotypes. It almost put me off my fondue.