review : And they all lived unhappily ever after

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The Independent Culture
"It's a bit like Spanish wine, isn't it?" said the immigration solicitor. "When you get it on holiday in Spain it's wonderful, but when you get it home it tastes horrible." She was advising Carol, a 52-year- old London divorcee who had just married Lamin, a 27-year-old Gambian beach-boy. Not all of Carol's friends had been quite as tactful as this, pointing out that Lamin might have other things on his mind than a life of connubial bliss in Archway with a woman old enough to be his mother.

Helena Appio's very watchable film for Modern Times (BBC2) cleverly began in Lamin's absence, allowing you to work up some doubts about the wisdom of the match before you actually got to meet him. You knew that Carol had conquered her own cultural prejudices: "Lookin' at his skin - bein' as it's so black you'd think it would be hard, you know, but it's not." But would soft skin be enough to bridge the gap between a Muslim boy of limited education and a middle-aged Catholic Englishwoman? At the same time Carol was confident that she wasn't being taken for a ride: "I think I'm quite a good judge of people," she said. But she had been divorced twice already, so you couldn't put too much store by that. Her hopes were so giddy, the gamble so reckless, that you waited for the arrival of the groom with uneasy anticipation, anxious to cast a guardian's sceptical eye over him.

The odds didn't alter much when he arrived. Lamin's principal method of persuasion was repetition: "I love Carol, I love Carol, I love Carol," he said loudly in the pub, kissing his hand elaborately between each avowal. But he seemed distinctly ill at ease in her company, a little melancholy about the coming wedding. He was right - it looked like the marriage wasn't going to make it past midnight after a row blew up over his intention to take the next day off for the Notting Hill Carnival. In fact, he took off for four days, a sort of extended stag night which followed the ceremony. Carol explained some home truths to him when he finally returned: "We call it constumating (sic) the marriage," she explained, but he hadn't. An hour after that they'd made it up again, but the relationship looked as durable and weatherproof as a cheap straw hat, bought in a moment of madness on a holiday beach.

The film was lucky in its story, but had also worked to facilitate its luck. In one striking scene the couple sat at home watching the fictional reflection of their relationship on Coronation Street. As Deirdre and her Moroccan toyboy Samir sat there, fretting about his ability to support her, Lamin shouted encouragement from the sofa. What a neat echo, you thought, until the final credit for "Library footage" from Granada Television alerted you to the fact that it was a highly contrived one. Carol had notionally sold her television to pay for Lamin's flight to England - how fortunate that she had been able to obtain another one in time for that telling moment.

There are fewer such constructions in The Real Holiday Show (C4), an extremely enjoyable exploitation of the video-camera's ability to drain glamour from the television screen. The principle is simple - holiday- makers are asked to record their own breaks and the results are professionally edited into short films. The results are rather scrappy and unstructured, but can be as sharply characterised as an Ayckbourn play. They offer a useful antidote to the brochure spotlessness of conventional holiday programmes. Last night's delights included an excruciating talent contest at the California Cliffs Holiday camp in Great Yarmouth and an excursion with four cocky young lads on an 18-30 holiday. "Most unlike Darren," said a whispered voice-over as the camera wobbled surreptitiously towards a sleeping blonde. "Same girl two nights running." I would love to hear Jill Dando read a line like that, but I don't think it's going to happen.