Last Night's Television - Crooked House, BBC 4; The Ascent of Money, Channel 4; Catastrophe, Channel 4

If only the people who run our economies knew more history, went Niall Ferguson's refrain in the final part of
The Ascent of Money, we wouldn't be in this mess right now. The message may not have sunk in with the City types just yet, but it's clearly making headway elsewhere. Mark Gatiss, formerly of The League of Gentlemen, has got the message, going by the first episode of
Crooked House. Gatiss's loving contribution to the Christmas ghost story genre is a portmanteau tale of eerie happenings at Geap Manor, now demolished, but once a house with "an interesting reputation". Last night's story, "The Wainscoting", set in the late 18th century, was full of knowing lines about stock-market bubbles and ruthless financiers who spread the risk and cling on to the profits - the clear implication being that while superficial things like wigs and stock-market terminology may change, the greed is a constant.



Gatiss's sense of history is apparent in other ways. The story is littered with little doffs of the cap to illustrious predecessors. The framing narrative is set in the store-room of a local museum, where the curator (Gatiss) is gleefully expounding Geap Manor's murky past to a man who has brought in an old door-knocker that turned up in his garden (presumably, his house is on the site of the manor: and presumably, as in all good portmanteau stories, the frame itself will turn out to contain a nasty twist). Behind the curator, tucked away at the back of a cluttered shelf, sits an old sign with the street name "Hob Lane" just visible through the clutter - Hob Lane being, as every wellbrought up child knows, the place where the buried alien spaceship was discovered in Quatermass and the Pit.



The script was rife with antique slang - "blunt" for money, "brain-box" for head. The plot was very MR James: ruthless financier Joseph Bloxham (Philip Jackson), who has brought respectable mento ruinandsuicide, buys and sets about renovating Geap Manor (some nice jokes about the slowness and unreliability of builders), but strange scratching and groaning comes from the walls behind the wainscoting - an uncommonly big rat, perhaps? As the weeks go by, the sceptical Bloxham succumbs to irrational fears. It turns out that the builder has made the panels out of timbers taken from the gallows at Tyburn - timbers that have acquired a thirst for blood.



At this point, MR James would have retreated from the story to allow a decent ambiguity - is it conscience or ghosts that get the better of Bloxham? Instead, we had mysterious inky shadows swallowing Bloxham up. Not bad visually, but far too specific; the best ghost stories let the imagination do the work.



I had a couple of other minor carps about Gatiss's script. The curator's reference to a 17th century palimpsest didn't ring true: palimpsests, parchments that have been scraped and written over, went out with the Middle Ages - exactly the kind of detail that the antiquarian-minded James would delight in getting right. As so often in BBC4's perpetually budget-starved dramas, too, the period setting was threadbare. But it's not often that you see a TV drama so blatantly rubbing its hands with pleasure; you'd have to be trying quite hard to resist its charm.



Earlier, The Ascent of Money brought the story up to the present day - the point at which money seems to have stopped ascending and started rolling down the other side. The theme of this episode was globalisation, the way that the world's economies have become inextricably intertwined. We think of this as something recent, but Niall Ferguson argued that we have been here before, in the era just before the First World War, a catastrophe from which international financial systems took half a century to recover.



Then, the financial superpowers were Britain and Germany; now, it's China and America, a pair of economies so completely in step with one each other that Ferguson likes to talk about a single entity, for which he has coined the term "Chimerica" - a silly word, with which he seemed inordinately pleased.



For all the fascination of the subject and Ferguson's undeniable cleverness, I found this series irritating. Too many of Ferguson's arguments are really rhetorical manoeuvres. He's probably right, for example, to discard conspiracy theories about American financial interests sponsoring the assassination of President Aguilera of Ecuador in 1981; but that doesn't, as he seemed to imply, discredit every argument about American economic imperialism.



Visually, it was restless and distracting - too many shots of glassy buildings, speeded-up footage of people rushing around cities, lots of rapid cuts, conveying a sense of money and panic but not meaning very much. And this final episode had a rather smug pessimism - Ferguson shaking his head wisely at those poor financial fools who don't know their history.



Catastrophe suffers the same problem, Tony Robinson looking too cheerful about the prospects of global annihilation by ice, fire, or hurtling bits of rock. Mind you, having been inured to the prospect of doomsday by old episodes of Horizon, Iimagine my main reaction when the asteroid strikes is going to be boredom. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a yawn.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York