Last Night's TV - The Little House, ITV1; The Trip, BBC2; Twitchers: a Very British Obsession,BBC4

Something wicked behind the wisteria

There's an old story about a dinner given by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in honour of the French President Charles de Gaulle. Struggling to make conversation with Madame de Gaulle, who spoke limited English, Lady Dorothy Macmillan resorted to a parlour-game overture. "If you could have one thing in life, what would it be?" she asked her French counterpart. Madame de Gaulle pondered this for a second, then beamed and said "a penis". There was a horrified silence around the table, broken by de Gaulle, who realised the confusion and said, "Non, she means 'appiness, 'appiness."

And so to ITV's two-part drama The Little House. One of the oddities of television drama these days is how affluent its inhabitants are, how skewed its portrait of Britain in favour of those few who live in £2m-detached period homes. I should think that less than 2 per cent of the population live in rambling, wisteria-clad houses in the Home Counties, yet in telly drama, soaps apart, it must be 70 per cent or more. This is not really a complaint, just an observation. After all, what these dramas usefully tell us is that money might buy lovely homes with mullioned windows but not, as Madame de Gaulle might have expressed it, a penis.

Anyway, scarcely has our collective mirth subsided at the hammed-up middle-class misery of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, than here we are again in the land of wisteria and hysteria, this time in Ed Whitmore's slick adaptation of Philippa Gregory's novel. This little house, incidentally, is definitely not to be confused with the one on the prairie. It stands in the stockbroker-belt grounds of a much bigger house, owned by wealthy Frederick and Elizabeth (Tim Pigott-Smith and Francesca Annis), who buy it in the hope that their son Patrick (Rupert Evans) and daughter-in-law Ruth (Lucy Griffiths) will move in and raise a family there.

So far, so mundane. Except that Ruth, a teacher orphaned in a childhood car crash, isn't ready to have a baby. She wants to spend time in America hunting down distant relatives. In the meantime, her husband and his parents represent her only family, but Elizabeth's ostensible kindness is only skin-deep. Her passion is for her son Patrick, and when Ruth subsequently gives birth, for her grandson Thomas. Elizabeth was desperate for the child to be male. "I don't think you know what mothering is until you've had a boy," she told Ruth. For Elizabeth, to cite dear old Madame de Gaulle again, happiness is a penis.

All this reminds those of us with long TV memories of Mother Love, another psychological thriller of 20-odd years ago that starred Diana Rigg as the nutty mother-in-law unhealthily attached to her son and hellbent on reclaiming him from his wife. Annis treads similar territory and does so marvellously, offering only a hint here and there that beneath the serene exterior lurks a bunny-boiling psychopath. So far, it is Ruth, diagnosed with postpartum depression, who appears to be the one with the mental illness, and indeed at the end of last night's episode the poor woman was carted off to a residential "clinic", giving Elizabeth the control she craved over young Thomas.

A top-notch cast, decent script and clever, moody direction make The Little House highly watchable, but I have one major gripe. When did we become so unreliable as an audience that we couldn't be trusted to watch next week's episode without a taster, before and sometimes over the final credits, of what's going to unfold? Or is it more to do with the programme-makers' lack of confidence in the product? Either way, it's deeply annoying, especially when we're happy to be kept guessing as to what might happen, only for our guesswork to be undermined by the dreaded "Next Week..."

Thankfully, there was no such nonsense at the end of The Trip, but then we don't need a preview to anticipate more of the same part-scripted and part-improvised banter between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they travel around the north of England, supposedly because Coogan has been hired by a Sunday newspaper to review fancy restaurants and, after inconveniently splitting up with his American girlfriend, has invited his old mate Brydon along.

The conceit is that the two comedians play heightened versions of themselves, which in the former's case seems to be a less obnoxious, more successful Alan Partridge, and in the latter's case, a worldlier, more knowing Uncle Bryn from Gavin & Stacey. Never mind the haute cuisine, The Trip is a shameless example of television feeding off itself, and sporadically very funny indeed. Moreover, speaking of Shameless, it's high time television showcased the beauty of the north of England. There must be people south of Newport Pagnell, too young to remember All Creatures Great and Small, who think of the north as one big, grubby council estate. Much as I enjoyed watching Coogan and Brydon in last night's opener, I enjoyed seeing the Trough of Bowland in my native Lancashire more.

I'm told that the Trough of Bowland is wonderful for bird-watching. I don't know much about bird-watching, or at least didn't before Twitchers: a Very British Obsession, a jaw-dropping documentary that revealed that the image of the genteel old duffer with binoculars couldn't be further from the truth; they're terrifying.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high