Last Night's Television: Land Girls, BBC1; The Restaurant - The Winner's Story, BBC2; Clever V Stupid, BBC3

Toil and trouble
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The Independent Culture

The story of the Women’s Land Army, the (mostly) wholesome, rosy-cheeked “land girls” who stepped in to replace Britain’s fighting menfolk by putting their shoulders to the yoke of the nation’s agricultural effort during the Second World War, is rich in dramatic potential. Indeed, there was a film called The Land Girls a few years ago, starring Rachel Weisz and Anna Friel, which in turn was based on a book, by Angela Huth, also called TheLand Girls. So the current TV adaptation, Land Girls, which runs on BBC1 every day this week in the slot before the six o’clock news, is not exactly covering unfamiliar ground.



Neither that nor the teatime scheduling, however, quite excuses its two-dimensionality, for which the tone was set at the start, with the assumption of lazy, superior Nancy (Summer Strallen) that an obliging soldier would carry her cases from the railway station to the posh house where she was to be billeted. He didn’t, so with an indignant sigh she had to lug them herself, only for (surprise, surprise) an enemy plane to strafe the country lane she was walking along with her fellow arrival Joyce (Becci Gemmell).

Naturally, Nancy then sneakily claimed the credit for saving Joyce’s bacon when in fact it was the other way round, two ticked boxes in the getting-to-know-your-characters manual on how to write TV drama. In a way, it was something of an achievement to cram so many wartime clichés into the first 45 minutes: the naive land girl sweettalked by a weaselly GI into handing him her virtue; the flint-hearted, haughty lady of the house; the rogueishly lovable farmer dealing in black-market pork chops; the Glenn Miller numbers at the village dance; at least one character pointing out that careless talk costs lives. What I don’t know is whether the writer, Roland Moore, was commissioned to make Land ,Girls accessiblefor children, or whether he wrote the piece perhaps hoping for a Sunday-evening primetime slot. If it was the former then I can see why the segregation of black and white GIs, for example, was dealt with so simplistically, and three or perhaps two cheers to him for introducing a complicated issue in the first place. But children deserve intelligent drama no less than the rest of us, and Land Girls, despite a very decent cast, clunks in too many ways. Were GIs really at liberty to amble through English villages seemingly whenever the fancy took them during the war? Why is there such a mixture of provincial accents – I heard traces of Yorkshire, Manchester, East Anglia and Somerset – among the villagers? And why is the castellated stately home belonging to Lord and Lady Hoxley (Nathaniel Parker and Sophie Ward) described as a manor house, which it manifestly isn’t? Maybe I’m being too picky, and should focus on or at least acknowledge the positives. It looks sumptuous, the acting is good, and there are some nice touches, as when Nancy and Joyce got the giggles after surviving the attack of the rogue German plane. Hysteria, I imagine, quite often took that form.

There was another brand of hysteria altogether on show in The Restaurant: the Winners’ Story, which looked at how Michele and Russell the winners of the reality series whose prize was the opportunity to set up a restaurant in Marlow in partnership with the esteemed chef Raymond Blanc – fared in the run-up to opening night. Not all that well in Michele’s case, when with a couple of weeks to go she threw an epic wobbly because some joinery wasn’t the way she wanted it, but she recovered her composure, they got through the glitches and the grand opening seemed to go smoothly, although heaven knows why Blanc didn’t dissuade them from calling the place the Cheerful Soul.

Somefriends of mine, both talented chefs, once opened a restaurant in London and called it Big Night Out. It didn’t survive all that long, and I always thought that the name partly sealed its demise. What if customers only wanted a low-key night out? The first rule of restaurant naming should surely be to avoid making the place a hostage to fortune. What if awaitress at the Cheerful Soul looks miserable? It will offer diners a reason to be cynical even before they’ve tasted the food. Besides, the Cheerful Soul sounds like a chippie on Blackpool prom, sister to the Happy Haddock.

Still, the laurels for last night’s crassest piece of titling go not to Michele and Russell but whoever decided to call BBC3’s new game show Clever v Stupid. On the other hand, the title is the least crass thing about it, and I won’t even dignify the preposterous format with a description. My wife, who endured it with me, wondered whether anyone not professionally obliged to sit through it would suffer more than five minutes before reaching for the remote, and I can’t really add to that except to observe that in asking the contestants what the abbreviation IQ stands for, the presenter, Matt Edmondson, mispronounced the word “quotient”.

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