Last Night's Television: Sleep With Me, ITV1
Alan Carr: Chatty Man, New Year's Special, Channel 4
They made it an affair to remember
I haven't read Joanna Briscoe's widely praised novel, on which last night's erotic thriller Sleep with Me was based, though I can't imagine how any fan of the work could be displeased: what we got was exceptional in its subtly, elegance and vitality. Andrew Davies – never one to shy away from an added sex scene here or wet shirt there – appeared to have exercised admirable restraint in his adaptation. There were, I think, only two sex scenes in the whole thing, though the tensions that ran throughout more than satisfied any appetite for the racy.
Adrian Lester played Richard, a journalist with considerably more time on his hands than most, and Jodhi May his partner (and eventual wife) Lelia. Initially, they appeared the perfect couple: devoted, humorous, modern (if a little smug). Their friends were pretty enchanting too, though not quite as irreproachable as our protagonists. Richard's pugnacious best friend Macdara (Adam James) was, we learned fairly early on, on the verge of having an affair with a mystery woman. They'd done everything but the dead, he told Richard. Richard had little sympathy and threatened to tell Macdara's wife, Catrin (Justine Mitchell).
The irony, of course, was that Richard had already – without knowing it – begun his own illicit romance. Through Macdara and Catrin he had made the acquaintance of Sylvie, played by Anamaria Marinca. A would-be novelist, Richard was initially bemused when mysterious passages of prose began to arrive in his email inbox, though as his knowledge of Sylvie – who, as chance would have it, began writing for the same paper as he – grew, he made the connection: the text, apparently far superior to his own work, belonged to her. Her talent, combined with her demure Gallic charm, gradually seduced him. Little in the way of actual adultery occurred, though on the one occasion he attempted to kiss her, he was spotted by Catrin, who promptly told Macdara. For a while, there proceeded a game of lovers' hide-and-seek: will Lelia, by this stage pregnant and with a budding friendship with Sylvie, uncover their affair? Before long, however, it became clear that Lelia was committing an infidelity of her own, also with Sylvie who, it transpired, was intent on edging her way into the perfect couple's life.
It was all, it has to be said, incredibly gripping, and the various performances were pitch-perfect. The only weak point – and really this is a minor one – was Sylvie. The fault wasn't, I think, that of Marinca but of a combination of factors: the character – that of the enigmatic French seductress – became, somewhere along the lines, a bit of a caricature. She wasn't, in fact, at all sexy, just slightly annoying, in a creeping, contrary kind of way. Understanding Richard's attraction to her wasn't difficult – a man on the verge of fatherhood, it was not implausible that he might fall for someone so elusive as a mere reflection of his own inner turmoil – though Lelia's was rather more difficult to fathom. She really did seem to fall in love, albeit temporarily. Increasingly, as the couple became gradually besotted with her penchant for riddles and twee Gallicisms, I found myself losing patience with their sheer gullibility.
Curiously, Sleep with Me was a project that has been pending from ITV1 for some time, shelved for a year by Peter Fincham to save on marketing costs. It's a shame, really. If only everything on ITV was this good, the channel might not be in quite the state it's in now. It was certainly of a far higher calibre than what we've come to expect (I'm a Celebrity... anyone? The Bill?). Quite why it was being broadcast on New Year's Eve, when large chunks of its target audience were either out celebrating or glued to the various celluloid countdowns available on the other channels remains a mystery. Though still, for those who caught it, a not unenjoyable one at that.
Speaking of countdowns: what exactly was going on with Alan Carr: Chatty Man New Year's Special, seemingly the only other New Year's programme that broadcasters were willing to make available in time to review? It was not, in itself, a particularly unusual choice of New Year's Eve scheduling, what with Jools Holland and Graham Norton doing the honours on BBC1 and BBC2, it only seemed right that an equally popular host was chosen for Channel 4. What is rather peculiar is the fact that last night wasn't in fact, the first time the programme had aired. It rang in the New Year on the 29th as well. Still, those forced to watch it twice could have fared worse. Carr's always a charming host, and the slightly random theme of a 1980s party (was it all to coincide with Spandau Ballet's appearance?) made it feel, if nothing else, rather festive. Still, with jokes like these ("It's all right being Dr Who but Dr Who?") perhaps a slightly longer break between airings might have been helpful.
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