Last Night's TV: The Model Agency/Channel 4
The Real King's Speech/Channel 4
Thursday 24 February 2011
Your product is not a bottle on a shelf," said Carole, the founder of Premier Model Management. "It talks back." That remark is ambiguously poised between professional moan and moral warning. It might highlight an irritating difficulty with the product or just the larger responsibility of anyone involved in selling it. But by the end of The Model Agency, Channel 4's new observational series, it was hard not to hear it as a whinge. Life would be so much easier for Carole and her colleagues if the models didn't have minds of their own. They only really need the exterior packaging, after all.
The Model Agency appears to be employing the same technology that Channel 4 used in The Family, with every wall sporting a boss-eyed camera so that no hissy-fit or camp aside is missed. And since Premier operates from a single large room – with all the bookers working their phones around a big central table – there's no shortage of repartee and pressure-cooker venting to go into the final cut. "My girls don't stay in model flats and they don't need pocket money," said senior booker Paul, teasing his colleague Jamie about the comparative success of their respective stables. "They only travel by Concorde." "Yeah," Jamie snapped back, "that's how old they are." Last night's episode began at the busiest time of the year for a model agency – heading into the New York season, which kicks off a chain of international fashion shows, and can make or break a model's working year. And it opened with the first of many lessons in the brutality of this world, as Paul answered the phone to a hopeful. "How old are you and how tall are you?" he asked. Short pause. "Five foot five. That's why you're too short, I'm afraid. Thank you." "No hostages today," he said, after he'd put the phone down.
As Paul explained later, being pretty isn't enough. "They don't look like girls you went to school with or girls you know or people on your street... they have to be ethereal. They have to look like they were born in a different world." Behind him, the kind of girl you would be very happy to have living next door to you was getting a gentle brush-off. Not nearly alien enough, essentially. Which wasn't a problem for India, whose beauty had that sculpted, Avatar quality, which is the current vogue on the catwalk. The whole office was very excited about India, spotted when she was barely out of the cradle and just about to make her New York debut at the age of 16. Unfortunately, India was no longer quite so excited about modelling, after her first encounter with the fashion world's deranged attitude to body shape. The bottle was talking back and it was, everyone agreed, "a nightmare".
Her long-distance meltdown provided the bulk of this first episode, with Annie (head of new faces) moping weepily about the office as she tried to prevent India from bolting. "If I thought it was the best thing for India not to do the shows," she said, "I'd be a hundred per cent behind it. But I just know she's going to regret it." The fact that Premier would get a substantial percentage of India's New York earnings somewhat undermined your confidence in the purity of her motives. And as Annie paraded around sniffling and telling everyone how many times she'd cried that morning – as she and her colleagues talked of jetting to New York to "help India through this time" – you realised that they had simply no idea what they would look like from the outside. India, to her great credit, resisted the arm-twisting and tender coercion ("I just want to make sure you're happy with your choice") and insisted she wanted to go back to school and do what most 16-year-olds do, rather than have her confidence shredded by waspish New Yorkers. At which point, the rhetoric of sisterly care twisted into self-pity, about money and time invested and the capricious folly of India's choice. "Jawdropping," said Carole's brother Chris, about a child's decision to opt for a bit more childhood instead of money, stress, and catwalk fame. I thought India had never looked lovelier.
The title of The Real King's Speech implicitly hinted at a gap between the Oscar-nominated movie and the real events. Which made it a little underwhelming that this documentary about the true events essentially confirmed the story told by the film. If you'd already seen it you won't have learnt a lot. Like the film it told an essentially heartwarming story of a troubled man overcoming his stammer with the help of an unconventional Australian therapist, and winning the hearts of a grateful nation in their hour of darkness. It was interesting to hear from some of Lionel Logue's other patients and there were two excellent details that would surely have made the feature film a bit more thistly and indigestible than it actually was. The first was the revelation that George VI had sometimes become so furious about his incapacity that he booted a corgi across the room. And the second was a memorably unctuous bit of broadcast archive from Cosmo Lang, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who thought it would be helpful to tell the entire nation about the King's impediment. "To those who hear it, it need cause no sort of embarrassment," he said in pricelessly parsonical tones, "because it causes none to him who speaks." A whopping lie for a primate to tell, and wildly counterproductive, too, one imagines.
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