Television Reviews: Berkeley Square and The Tribe

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The combination of a country shoot and adultery is never wise. All those loaded guns, all that highly charged emotion - and sure enough last night's Berkeley Square (BBC1 ) concluded with a man in Norfolk tweeds lying face down in the bracken. Arnold St John was now the injured husband in at least two senses, the trigger having been pulled not by him, or his faithless wife, or even his cuckolder - but by his eight-year old son Tom, who had been subjected to the sort of persistent mental cruelty which would these days result in a care order and court action. Personally I would much have preferred Tom to have swung his weapon in the direction of the loathsome Louis, a coroneted brat who thinks that putting a bloody pheasant at the bottom of the bed is a character-building jape, but I suppose the producers felt that infanticide might be taking things a bit too far in a family show.

This kind of nasty aristocratic behaviour won't surprise regular viewers of Berkeley Square, incidentally, who have learned by now that the upper orders are - virtually without exception - emotionally stunted, duplicitous, selfish, abusive and so dull that a guest of any mettle would shoot himself, in order to qualify for medical evacuation back to London. There are very few mitigating circumstances which count against the crime of birth - you can be American, like Mrs Lamson-Scribener (one has the feeling the hyphen reflects her dangerous democratic ideas) or you can be pre-pubertal, and thus unlikely to pose a danger to passing parlour-maids - but other than that guilt is a given.

The lower-orders, on the other hand, are paragons of moral nobility. True, Ned the footman has killed a man and flinches every time a peeler's helmet passes the window, but his powers of abstinence would put Mahatma Ghandi to shame. In the last episode alone he could have bagged a certain brace but he stayed true to Mattie, one of the three nannies who form the sympathetic tripod on which Berkeley Square rests. True too that Hannah has concealed the death of one of her charges, but only so as to substitute her own child for the dead infant and thus save him from typhoid-infested Limehouse - a rescue the employing classes will not otherwise allow.

And if this subterfuge strikes you as implausible then you haven't taken into account quite how airily self-obsessed the grand folks can be. Far from commenting on the odd changes in her nephew (the child's parents are away in India) Isabelle, acting head of the household, is far too busy trying to snare Captain Toffaby-Cad, the moustachioed bounder who has been making free with St John's grumpy wife. Appropriately enough quite a few scenes in Berkeley Square are strongly reminiscent of silent melodrama - with a heavy reliance on smouldering looks and expressive props - there was a fine moment last night when Ned stared longingly at Mattie's empty bed and then swivelled to take in the sampler on the nursery wall - "Be sure your sins will find you out".

Better low-brow tosh than high-brow tosh though - at least on the evidence of The Tribe (BBC2), a drama which has been sitting on a BBC shelf for the last two years and which does not appear to have improved with the maturing. It was described as "dark" in the Radio Times, which may be a polite way of saying that it was quite impossible to make out what was going on. Joely Richardson played the leader of a South London commune - all Jean Muir dresses and Elle Deco interiors - who represent an obstacle for Jeremy Northam's yuppie property developer. It's his job to get them for his ruthless boss (Trevor Eve), but in the end they get him - deploying the unanswerable argument of Anna Friel with no clothes on. Stephen Poliakoff's script seemed to be about the envy of the Nineties - anxious, overworked and inhibited by Aids - for the easy hedonism of the Sixties, but it threw in some extra ideas for good measure - the thin veneer of suburban respectability, the changing nature of urban society, the terror difference represents to those who have chosen sameness. There were hints now and then that the whole thing was meant to be funny, in which case it was let down by its production, but it's hard to imagine that any shift in register could have made it work.