Grace Dent on TV: Legacy, BBC2

Everyone in this Cold War thriller was brilliant, but I still fell asleep 

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The Independent Culture

I chanced upon spy thriller Legacy on BBC2 during a perilously slim week for British television. My withering dismay for the fetishisation of that duff children’s programme Dr Who has been documented. It was boring in the 1980s as I chewed the sofa arm in captive anger, wishing I’d been born with sisters instead of farting chomps of brothers who demanded to watch it when I could be reading Ceefax. And it is boring now, even if the BBC have employed every PR muscle they possess to give it a three-week publicity blitz.

One’s heart is heavy for everyone else involved in BBC output during this time who receives no coverage whatsoever, none, and relies on its actors to tweet, “Please, please, watch me, please!” as their show doesn’t even have a trailer because the cash for that was spent on a papier-mâché mask for a Dr Who villain that wouldn’t even scare a queue of children at Santa’s grotto.

So yes, Legacy on BBC2: a spy thriller. I cannot normally stand spy thrillers. Oh, the sitting for days in dark, fuggy rooms, and the smoking and the mumbling of Russian names and the holding up of photos while shouting, “You know this man?” and the shagging of pneumatic, wasted prostitutes who will inevitably die with their tits out, before the hero is eventually turned to work for the “other” side – and does the whole thing again with a Russian hat on. No. Cold war? Cold bore more like! Am I right? These are the sort of solid gold jokes I scribbled on my pad during Legacy where the spy Charles (Charlie Cox) gets himself into a terrible pickle with his Russian former uni chum Viktor, while Romola Garai – playing spy Anna – provided diverting sparkle and a shoulder for Charles to snivel on. I fell asleep during my first viewing of Legacy although in its defence it was warm and dark in the living room and we’d reached the section where Charles had been told by the Russian that his own father, now deceased, was a high-ranking Russian spy, so Charles had gone to question his mother played by Del Boy’s missus from Only Fools and Horses. Obviously she denied it. But then she would as we were only 25 minutes into a one-and-a-half-hour drama and we still had to fit in some car chases, a dead hooker, Charles shagging Anna, a lot of scenes where Simon Russell Beale does his Monty Python-style simmering fury schtick, and a point when Charlie’s mother faces up to the truth.

I should point out here that everyone in Legacy is rather bloody brilliant. Lovely Geraldine James clomps in at one point being haughty in a twin-set, employing a gait that suggests she has killed many people yet still reserves her worst revenge for shoddy customer service. But there wasn’t a great deal for any of them to play with here.

Of course one great plus about Legacy was the fact that it was on BBC2 and during the 90 minutes one was staring at it, one wasn’t in danger of seeing the John Lewis, Tesco or Marks & Spencer Christmas adverts for the 348th time. All are equally flimsy – while masquerading as epic – and are being force-fed down viewers’ throats in the manner of factory foie gras preparation right now. What is this fresh Christmas hell we have all been gifted with? Awful, barely coherent, jarring tat at every ad break. Someone please look me in the eye and tell me what the story arc is of that M&S Wizard of Oz crapfest. And for a bonus point, name one single item it is advertising.

The Tesco advert should just cut to the chase and have a grim reaper sitting at the Christmas dinner table and the tagline, “you’re all going to be dead one day, enjoy your fucking sprouts”. Obviously, the Tesco ad would be more upsetting if the ageing make-up didn’t look like it was two parts Tesco value flour and two parts lard propelled at actors’ faces from six metres away using a Tesco Back To School Helix ruler.

And then John Lewis: a bear goes to sleep for a bit and is woken up by a hare. Maybe the bear liked being asleep? Maybe the bear had put himself to bed with mild depression until Christmas Day as it had already sat through David Gandy as the Mad Hatter on every single ad break since 10 November. I don’t want to be depressed or have my heart-strings pulled at Christmas, the realities of life do a good enough job. Give me Ant and Dec jumping out of a Christmas pudding while Noddy Holder screams “It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiistmas” and is lost in an Armaggedon-level glitter cannon  scenario instead.

I finished Legacy on the third viewing by sitting upright all the way through with the radiators off and a cup of coffee. Cold War thrillers make me so sleepy. I should go to John Lewis and buy an alarm clock.