TODAY'S TELEVISION

Gerard Gilbert recommends Prohibition: 13 Years That Changed America Sat 8.10pm BBC2
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The Independent Culture
Everything in moderation. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good description of the TV previewer's lot, but what brought the maxim to mind was watching Prohibition: 13 Years That Changed America (Sat BBC2), a handsome new three-part series chronicling the decade or so that the United States was officially dry. Officially.

Allow people to drink and they will find their level - even if that level is the gutter. Prohibit the sale of alcohol and you drive sober maidens out of the drawing room and into the speakeasies, where they Charleston on the table-tops and sink enough gin martinis to light up Manhattan. The consumption of alcohol actually shot up during Prohibition.

On a more cosmic scale, America was gangsterised, smalltown chancers turned into Great Gatsbys, and every official, from street-corner cop to Attorney General, into grafters. And it didn't help the spirit of Prohibition, as it were, that the US President who passed the 18th Amendment, Warren Harding, was a heavy imbiber. Altogether it was an unnatural act to enforce sobriety upon the period of national light-headedness which succeeded the First World War. It gave us Al Capone and, more happily, it gave us Sam McCoy, a rum smuggler whose product was, well, the real McCoy.

Now, there are people who would ban Reservoir Dogs (Sat C4) from our TV screens, thus encouraging every 12-year-old in the land who hasn't seen it on video (maybe even a bootleg video) to pester their parents into letting them stay up. According to the London listings magazine Time Out, "Tarantino's debut masterpiece... is a study in deception and betrayal". Rather than, say, a stylish film-school exercise with a comic-book sensibility. Surely it's only a masterpiece if you stand it next to the tediously over- long Pulp Fiction. As you can see, I'm not a Tarantino fan, so I'll leave the Film Night Special (Sat C4) on the film buff wunderkind to those who are.

Screen Two's ID (Sun BBC2) is probably just as violent as Reservoir Dogs, and the dialogue relies heavily on one very basic Anglo-Saxon expletive. This drama about an undercover police unit penetrating a gang of East End football hooligans has a patina of dust on it. The very title refers to three-year-old headlines, when ID cards were touted as an answer to soccer match violence. The ferrety Reece Dinsdale plays one of the coppers, who goes native when he discovers he has more in common with the hooligans than with his employers at the Met.

If ID is dusty, then The Jewel in the Crown (Sun C4) needs careful decanting. It's matured well, though, to conclude the vinous analogy. I was off in somewhere like India myself when this 14-part drama set in the wartime Raj got its first and (hitherto) only showing back in 1984, so perhaps that's why it seems so fresh. Starring Charles Dance, Art Malik, Tim Pigott- Smith, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Susan Wooldridge (such a perfect face for the period), this rich adaptation of Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet is being re-shown to mark the 50th anniversary of Indian self-government. Four Goes to Glyndebourne (Sat C4), meanwhile, features Manon Lescaut, the unlikely marriage of early instrument purist John Eliot Gardiner with Puccini. The Romanian soprano Adina Nitescu plays the convent girl forced into prostitution before meeting her fate in the New World, and during the interval there's a chance to join the opera-goers picnicking in the grounds. Next year can I suggest scratch 'n' sniff cards, too - odours of poached trout and chilled Sancerre, that sort of thing?

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