REVIEW / The art of seduction, the skill of the tackle
By the end of the first episode he had engaged in nervous osculation with all three of Lord Flamborough's daughters - having literally been jumped on by Matilda (the sort of girl who likes pretending to be a tree dryad) and having offered a consolatory smooch to Chloe, a proficient engine driver with a Scottish husband. In the Radio Times, John Hadfield, the author of the novel from which David Nobbs has adapted the series, describes the story as a simple one: 'Someone sophisticated from London goes into the backwoods.'
You have to wonder whether he's read his own book recently. Jasper (played with charming gaucherie by Michael Maloney) is about as sophisticated as a pair of galoshes. He has been despatched to investigate Output Statistics, a mysterious Civil Service department which has operated without scrutiny or apparent purpose for 17 years. He discovers Arcady Hall, a pastoral idyll populated by satyrs and nymphs, as the name suggests.
Put like that it sounds rather ghastly, groaning under the strain of calculated eccentricity. But Nobbs's allusive script and Martyn Friend's direction are light and airy, and the performances are excellent. Leslie Phillips again demonstrates his ability to mumble a line into hilarity with Lord Flamborough, who lost his legs in the General Strike and now lives on his own private train, while Maria Aitken is nicely distracted as his wife. Best of all, the comedy isn't afraid to turn a little dark now and then. Et in
The same could be said of Saturday's Fair Game (BBC 1), Stephen Bill's play, which served up an admonition of what is about to descend upon us from the United States. Plotted around the 1970 World Cup, it was, on the face of it, a genial rites-of-passage road movie, in which the story of Marco, spoilt Italian rich-kid looking for his roots in Preston and Whitby, is plaited together with that of Ellie and Carl, idealistic young lovers trembling on the brink of sexual and political consummation - she is on the Pill, he has just voted for the first time in an election he thinks will bring a Labour victory, and England are in Mexico.
The detail was often perfect - 'The cloth must stay on at all times,' warns Carl's mother about the new television, the first colour set in the street and an object of almost religious veneration. Girls with skinhead cuts serve in the bars. As they stride across the moors, Carl's loon pants threaten to airlift him back into Morecambe Bay. The soundtrack was terrific too - but anyone looking for a joy-ride would have been disappointed, and anyone enjoying the current apotheosis of football as the smart lads game might have found it a bit sour.
Football here isn't the occasion for rapture but mean-spirited, xenophobic belligerence. It leads to malice and vandalism, to self-pity and petulance. These are exactly captured by Bill - the way disappointment can turn rancid, the way that when high hopes collapse some innocent bystander often gets hit by the rubble. It wasn't satisfying exactly, seducing you with genre pleasures and then withholding the expected climax, but it knew exactly where it was going.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?
- 4 Matthew Miller: American sentenced to hard labour in North Korea 'wanted to be Snowden II'
- 5 Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's 'Booty' music video is just a load of butts
Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'