Last Night's TV: Attila the Hun, BBC1<br/>Wonderland BBC2

A taste of Hun is better than none
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

My spirits lifted the moment I saw the first title card in Attila the Hun, a drama-documentary about the most feared group of heavy-metal fans in world history. "Somewhere in Central Europe 440AD" it read, an irresistible combination of the clueless and the precise. Romulus, an emissary of Flavius Aetius, was on his way to offer imperial consolations for the death of Ruga, King of the Huns. You imagined him sticking his head through the drapes of his carriage and saying, "Where in the name of Mercury are we?" "I'm not sure, sir," his equerry replies, "I think we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere in southern Europe. But I'm sure the Huns are around here somewhere." Fortunately, they stumbled across a Hun signpost shortly afterwards – in the form of several flyblown human kebabs – and then a sardonic Hun dwarf appeared to confirm that they were on the right track."You've come a long way," he said, his voice thick with Hunnish contempt, "I expect you're hungry."

Apparently, Attila the Hun was based on contemporary historical records and writings, but you can't honestly say that anyone involved had let that have an inhibiting effect on the drama, a sword-and-sandals epic that matched enterprising visual effects with a deliciously cloth-eared script. Perhaps my reaction was coloured by the fact that they'd cast Kevin Eldon, best known as a comedy actor, as Romulus, but I don't think he alone could have brought it off, despite the powerful flavour of parody he brought with him. Some credit has to go to Rory McCann, who played Attila as a Glasgow bruiser shortly after chucking-out time, and Tony Etchells, who produced a script richly studded with absurdities.

The film began with Attila's rampage against Rome's Eastern empire, which culminated in the successful sacking of the town of Naissus. Bleda, Attila's brother, thought they ought to call it a day when they spotted the ramparts. But Attila wasn't so sure. "Taking Naissus wouldn't be all that hard if we used our heads instead of talking out of our arses," he said. The logic of this was indisputable. Talking out of your arse will get you through the early rounds of Britain's Got Talent and may even land you a place in the final, but when it comes to Roman fortifications, it's just not going to cut it. What you need are siege towers, a lot of Bulgarian extras with beards, and a commander from the Brian Blessed school of generalship, who roars very loudly and leads from the front.

With Naissus reduced to rubble and Theodosius paying an increased premium on his pillaging-hordes insurance, the Huns kicked back for a while, quaffing wine and fondling wenches. But Attila got tetchy at the inactivity, so much so that he stabbed his brother in mid-feast. Noticing the sudden pall that this had cast over the general roistering, he looked up from twisting the blade in Bleda's carotid artery with an aggrieved expression. "What? Wasn't there a problem?" Then he cheered himself up by attacking the Western Roman empire, incidentally provoking my favourite line in the whole thing, when Romulus barged into Flavius Aetius's bedroom with urgent news. "I thought you'd want to know right away... the Huns are invading." The faint thumping sound you could hear at the end was probably Dr Peter Heather, the drama's historical adviser, beating his head repeatedly against his desk because he hadn't managed to get his name taken off the credits.

In Wonderland's The End of the World Bus Tour, David Clews went along for the ride with a group of evangelical end-timers on a tour of Israeli. Views about what was the highlight of the trip differed. Some thought it was the sightseeing flight over the valley of Armageddon, where 200 million soldiers are destined to gather for the final showdown. Others thought it was the visit to an Israeli army base, where the tourists did odd jobs around the camp and offered syrupy affirmations of love and support to embarrassed-looking conscripts. Clews didn't weigh the scales against his subjects, letting you see the personal grief and tragedy that may have contributed to their glassy-eyed delusions about the coming Apocalypse. But he also didn't conceal the uglier or more dangerous aspects of their faith, in particular the way that it had burned all rational uncertainty out of them.

"God says that he gave this people this land and that's just the way that it is," said one white-haired old lady, as she picked trash for the Israeli army. Another stared through the razor wire at the West Bank and talked of "God's enemies". "From what I have learnt about the religion, it's not all evil," the organiser said about Islam, "but basically in the true Koran... I mean, their purpose is to destroy Israel, so to me, it represents evil." Several of them believed that Clews had been sent by God to record their trip. If so, it suggests that God finds them sad and scary, too, and wants everyone to know.