Last Night's Television: The Devil's Whore, Channel 4<br />Dangerous Adventures For Boys, FIVE

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The Independent Culture

The English Civil War has a good claim to have been the best-written revolution in history, not because later writers have particularly done it justice but because those directly involved at the time spoke with such vivid brilliance. From Leveller debaters to Parliamentarian leaders to King Charles himself, the historical record is littered with an urgent vigour of speech that can often be transcribed straight into a shooting script. So, when Peter Capaldi's King, pale and indignant, stormed into the Long Parliament to seize the Puritan leaders and found them gone, his words – "I see my birds have flown"– have been drafted by history, not Peter Flannery. And the line with which the Speaker refuses his request for an identification of the guilty parties – "I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me" – didn't come from Flannery either, but from a man who, more than 350 years ago, decided on decorous rebellion.

Which is not to say there isn't plenty for a writer to do, not least negotiating a way through the conflict that doesn't require us to take sides too early. Flannery's solution, a bodice-rippingly melodramatic one, is to invent a character who can travel between the enemy lines – an aristocratic ward of the King called Angelica Fanshawe, whose marriage to a royalist (and whose matching allegiances) are eventually dissolved after the King executes her husband for cowardice. Played by Andrea Riseborough – whose porcelain skin and faintly exopthalmic eyes are a perfect match for the times – Angelica has ambitions beyond her feminine station and a rebel's temperament. We saw her first as a child, lying in the surf as she attempted to prevent her mother from leaving for France to become a nun. Her mother stepped over her, at which point Angelica's faith wavered. "If there be a god that steals mothers, then strike me down," she shrieked, and finding herself still alive, she denounced the Lord, at which point the Devil appeared to her, lolling out his tongue in a most suggestive manner.

I suspect someone has been reading Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic, because there's quite a lot of these fantastical visitations, including a scene where John Simm's character, a saturnine freebooter called Sexby, saw the spirits of the dead floating up from the charnel house of Edge Hill. Angelica's husband is a little rattled by his wife's early acquaintance with Satan, and even more so by her evident sexual appetite, which stirs deep insecurities in him. When she's bold enough to murmur heatedly in his ear during congress, he clamped his hand across her mouth and hissed, "These are the words of the whores in my soldiers' camps!" which understandably put a bit of a dampener on things. Fortunately for Angelica, there appears to be no shortage of admirers, even if some of them currently count as the enemy.

They're unlikely to stay that way for long because one of the subjects of The Devil's Whore is the fluidity of allegiances in this complicated time. Sexby rides on to the battlefield of Edgehill as a royalist but leaves it as a Parliamentarian, having plucked a ribbon off a dead body to switch sides. And even among the Parliamentarians, there are strains. Cromwell, played by Dominic West, is a pragmatist, ready to soothe the egos of aristocratic allies. John Lilburne, the Leveller, is all but ready to die for the right to treat a toff with contempt. The series itself is likely to frame another battle, between Flannery's Puritan desire to get as much real political fact in as he can and the Cavalier requirement that a primetime series should liven up the party with sexual tension and historical glamour. For the moment, just like Edgehill, it's hard to say that either party has won a decisive victory. The war continues for three more episodes.

Dangerous Adventures for Boys is a nice idea, a self-conscious exercise in male bonding in which celeb dads and their sons live out boyish daydreams. Last week, Martin Kemp and his son learned to dogfight in a pair of vintage aircraft. This week, Vic Reeves and his son, Louis, were taught how to sail and navigate a tall ship. Or rather they went through the motions of being taught, since it seems vanishingly unlikely that an 18th-century three-master was actually entrusted to them for a trip round the Eddystone lighthouse, as the voice-over repeatedly hinted was the case. I don't know why they bother pretending. The small boys who are the target audience for this programme are not fools and will spot at once that Vic and Louis were enthusiastic passengers at best. They could use some of the time they spent on bogus tension-raising to tell us more nuggety facts, which, as a small boy myself, I can assure them would go down very well indeed.

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