Television Review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
INEPTITUDE HAS always had a special place in Britain's national consciousness. Historically, there has been a tendency to believe that insouciant failure is more praiseworthy than effortful success; it goes along with the old-fashioned preference for gentlemen over players, rugby union over rugby league. "Britain muddles through" was one of the great myths of the Second World War. An interesting exploration of the myth comes in one of Powell and Pressburger's lesser films, Ill Met by Moonlight - a true story about commandos kidnapping a German general on Crete in 1944. In this tale, the flippant, exaggeratedly amateurish manner of the British turns out to be a camouflage for consummate professionalism and low cunning.

In real life, though, an amateurish air often hid nothing more than rank amateurishness. One of the most shambolic episodes of the entire war took place in Crete three years earlier, when British Empire forces defending the island against German invasion were routed by a massive airborne invasion. Home Ground (BBC2) investigated one of the more horrifying scenes in that tragedy - the sinking of the cruiser HMS Gloucester. Despite being almost out of ammunition, the Gloucester was ordered away from the main British fleet to give cover to two destroyers searching for survivors of another ship. Isolated and unable to defend itself, it was sunk with the loss of more than 700 lives; no attempt was made to pick up survivors, and only 84 men made it ashore to become prisoners of war.

Jeff Wilkinson's film for BBC Plymouth was partly concerned with ensuring blame for this disaster was laid in the proper place: at the feet of Rear- Admiral King, who commanded the fleet, and was (it now emerges) regarded by his superiors as "a better office- wallah than a sailor". But while that was the headline, the real story came in interviews with several of the ship's survivors, old men whose lives had been transformed and enriched by the Navy, and who found it hard to credit that, contrary to tradition, no attempt had been made to pick them out of the water. There was nothing fancy about the film, but it had an unusual warmth, and an infectious sense that the very least we owe to old sailors is to listen to their stories.

Despite it all, British amateurism toils on. Waiting for Harvey (BBC2), a surprisingly entertaining film by Stephen Walker, followed several sets of aspiring film-makers through the Cannes festival, where the ultimate goal is to sell your film to Harvey Weinstein, top man at Miramax. The film was dominated by James Merendino, a fast-talking, punchy American with Tarantino'esque ambition, ego and vocabulary. The British end was kept up mainly by Stephen Loyd, a minicab driver from Leytonstone, out to sell an unfinished and (by his own admission) partly nonsensical script. Trying to avoid France's toll-paying motorways, Loyd and his mates got lost 10 miles out of Calais, eventually sitting in the dark, out of petrol. Merendino got Harvey to a screening and a party, and created a buzz; Loyd got picked up by the police and created a traffic jam. The important thing is, he didn't look as if he was trying too hard.

Comments