Last Night's Television: The lady's not for turning off
Friday 27 February 2009
Another drama about Margaret Thatcher, this one jumping in straight at the deep end. Last time, we had Andrea Riseborough sexing up Maggie's youth; now, though, it's a rather more sombre interpretation from Lindsay Duncan, as she shows the embattled Prime Minister struggling through her messy final months at No 10.
From the outset, Duncan was utterly mesmerising, despite the fact that she neither looked nor sounded particularly like Thatcher. She's a great deal foxier, of course: on her, those navy suits and pussy-bow blouses looked more Chanel than Commons. And she's considerably sloanier, substituting Thatcher's clipped RP for a haughty, more theatrical tone. But by the end of the hour and 50 minutes, when Thatcher delivered her choked resignation to the Cabinet, Duncan resembled her exactly – if not physically, then in some other, less tangible way... the hook of her nose, the crease of her eye, the general air of belligerence.
The cast around her were equally compelling. Michael Maloney made for a surprisingly sinister John Major, turning him into a sort of silent Bond villain, while Oliver Cotton was all big-haired pomposity as Michael Heseltine and James Fox the picture of suavity as Charles Powell. No doubt Thatcher would have been thoroughly tickled by the unflattering caricature of her Cabinet.
What she would make of herself, however, is another question entirely. It certainly wasn't an unsympathetic depiction; indeed, there was little doubting that she was the film's heroine. Marching through the panelled corridors and smoke-filled tearooms of the Commons, she was rather like a steely Florence Nightingale, seemingly followed by a trail of warm light.
And, regardless of one's political inclinations, it was difficult not to root for her. This, I suspect, was down to the near-total absence of national politics; instead, it was the politics of the party – the murmured treachery and pointed phone calls – that dominated, juxtaposed with the recurring matter of her femininity.
"I am a woman, and so I must dominate them," she muttered at one point. And so we saw her struggling to open windows, and receiving briefings while doing her hair. We saw her buzzing around the home trailed by a hapless Denis (played brilliantly by Ian McDiarmid), as she barked instructions about frozen lasagne and forgot to congratulate Carol on her exams.
As for accuracy... well, Charles Powell has already criticised some of the closing scenes, though I suspect such quibbles are largely irrelevant. From the outset, with its throbbing music and lightening-quick scene changes, it was sold as a high-drama piece – a political thriller, almost – and that, ultimately, was delivered. It was gripping, beautifully performed and, in its own way, rather glamorous.
If only the same could be said of the MasterChef grand final. I actually love this programme, to the extent that I rush home from work to catch it, and when I can't, I watch it on weekends. It's the perfect combination of foodiness and reality, a sort of DIY food porn. But, by this stage, even I'm getting a little fed up. After eight weeks (and 32 episodes), it's all starting to grate. Cooking doesn't get tougher than this, warns the urgent voice-over. Yes, OK, we get it... Whoever wins, this will change their life for ever. All right! Calm down, for heaven's sake.
The three still competing were Chris, Andy and Mat. Chris and Andy are virtually interchangeable (young, tufty hair, trendy clothes), but the third, Mat, is a bit older and considerably weirder. He resembles a sort of fat Gary Glitter, and cries more frequently than Cheryl Cole. There was little doubt whom to support: poor Mat was so emotional that if he lost, we'd all be flooded. Come on, Mat! Disappointingly, no one really screwed up. There was the odd dubious duck breast or underdone pork belly, but nothing too grave. Even the panel of Michelin-starred chefs seemed to like them. "Amazing!" they beamed in turn. "He could work for us." It was all rather... suspicious. After all, it was only a few weeks ago that we saw these guys fumbling through the early rounds. One, if I recall correctly, couldn't even poach an egg.
The judges were loving it. Phwoar, forget about the food: they had these guys' fate in their hands. John Torode is the Simon Cowell character, since he cooks for a living. Gregg Wallace, on the other hand, is more Dannii Minogue; he's just a fruit-and-veg man, after all. It's impossible to take anything he says seriously, since he says it in such a ridiculous way. Have you noticed? He EMPHASISES every OTHER word. Seriously. Once it's pointed out, you can never forget it. "Mmm," he grumbles. "THAT dessert IS just HEAVEN." How can you trust diction such as that?
Alas, he wasn't so keen on Chris, and neither was John, so he was the first to be ruled out. It was between Andy's duck ravioli and Mat's spider crab, both of which looked thoroughly edible. Ultimately, the crab won out. And – uh, oh – there went the floodgates.
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