Television review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
A stained glass window glows amber and gules in the background and a brilliant white light dazzles into a halo above the speaker's head. Attend! For Zeal-In-The-Land Hutton has been seized by the spirit and the congregation is rapt, watching as this medium of outrage rocks under the buffeting of his own inspiration. "I mean, GODDAM!," he yells in a sudden access of moral pain, "We'd better get serious about what's going on in our country!" To which the camera, breathless disciple and amanuensis, offers a visual Hallelujah, zooming in on the reverend features. Whatever else it is, False Economy (C4), a three-part television spin-off from Hutton's surprise bestseller, The State We're In, is not a conventional political documentary.

This week's episode - in which Hutton turned to the sins of the moneylenders - was actually a little calmer than last week's opener - in which he had cried woe unto the wretched of the land and heard their lamentations in return. The style, then, was something like a revivalist roadshow, the viewer not buttonholed directly by Hutton's stern admonitions but permitted to accompany the presenter on his urgent mission of conversion, bustling through radio studios, factories and offices to press home a gospel of economic compassion. The sense that you are watching a dissenting preacher is only increased by Hutton's rhetoric - extravagantly studded with "amazing", "devastating" and "staggering". He uses Biblical words like "calamity" without embarrassment, and shareholders are described as "promiscuous" for the casual infidelity of their stockholding and their readiness to be seduced by Whore Profit.

Argument is hardly the point here - what opposition there is to Hutton's views is chopped to pieces, not by the exercise of his own logic, but by the itchy distraction of the direction, which is intent on capturing energy rather than coherence - it's as if the non-believers are featured only to throw his wild conviction ("passionate" if you're an adherent, "excitable" if not) into bolder relief. And if Hutton occasionally strikes you as a few footnotes short of the full thesis, that is only another mark of the programme's success in transferring character to screen. This is a man who is sometimes rendered speechless by the iniquities he uncovers: "I'm just... you know... the whole thing... I mean... huh!," he spluttered on the phone in the first programme.

This week, as I said, the mood was a little less frantic and reflective, though there were clear continuities too. No interviewee was allowed to sit down for a conversation, presumably lest the sense of upright urgency drained away through the seat of the chair. Most of the argument, about dangerous short-termism, was carried by eavesdropped sequences in which Hutton addressed solemnly attentive students or braved the lion's den of the city. And there was a distinctly religious note to his vision of the New Jerusalem - local German banks, shining with community spirit or gleaming temples of research and development in Carolina. Sombre passages from oratorios played in the background and his more percussive rhetoric was punctuated by cavernous booms, the sound of Leviathan crushing British industry in some city dealing room.

As an exercise in style, it is triumphant (even though an hour might be said to be glorying a bit too much in the triumph). As an appeal to atrophied instincts for righteousness and hope, it is also rather effective (though I confess to a sentimental predisposition for any man who can irritate the Tory press to the degree that Hutton has). As analysis I can't properly judge it, not least because the programmes brook so little contradiction from other wisdoms. I do know that when Hutton talks of the virtuous circle of rising wages or the vicious circle of short-term profit, it isn't bar-charts and graphs that I see in my mind's eye but woodcut illustrations to a new Pilgrim's Progress - the corrupting theology of economics simplified for Everyman.

Comments