Last Night's TV: Women in Love/BBC4
A Farmer's Life For Me/BBC2
Friday 25 March 2011
Rather a lot happened in the first part of BBC4's Women in Love – two drownings, at least one fight, a rape – though you wouldn't necessarily know it. The quiet, almost whimsical, nature of William Ivory's script allowed events to unfold gently, playing second fiddle to the internal dramas of the characters. It's a risky strategy: an adaptation of D H Lawrence's dual novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love, in which the predominant themes are sex and guilt could be a recipe for introspective torpor if ever there was one. And yet, to my mind, it all came off.
Women in Love errs on the right side of turgid. Which is to say, it avoids it. It boasts the sort of cast of which few directors can dream: Rosamund Pike and Rachael Stirling star as the Brangwen sisters, intent on embracing life more vigorously than their parochial parents. As the artistic Gudrun, Pike's preoccupation is with her bohemian set in London; a promising fine art student, she is as much in love with the idea of seducing her teacher as with the man himself. Stirling's Ursula, meanwhile, oscillates between a desire to reunite with her fiancé and frustration at his inability to satisfy her sexual urges.
While Pike and Stirling's characters heed their mother's advice to "find love that will burn your very soul", Joseph Mawle and Rory Kinnear offer equally compelling performances as the vigorous Gerald Crich and introspective Rupert Birkin. Curiously, the two pairs – at least in this first half – barely interact at all. Instead, they exist as parallels, male and female equivalents, coming to terms with the social changes of the day.
Sex, of course, is everywhere; this is after all D H Lawrence. A good 50 percent of the programme takes place, as it were, in the nude. Still, there's more to the Women in Love than just lust. Thanks, in large part, to the strength of Pike and Stirling's performances (particularly, I thought, the former, whose Gudrun occupies a near-constant state of fragility and self-consciousness), it resists the temptation to become period smut. Instead, we are offered a quietly engaging depiction of change through the generations. As we left them, Birkin was grappling with the subject of his sexual orientation, Crich with the tragedy of his sister's death. The two sisters, meanwhile, have cast off the men in their lives, preparing to "feel the earth between their toes". What that entails remains too be seen. I, for one, look forward to finding out.
James Nesbitt recently gave an interview claiming that his hair transplant – performed not so long ago by a Dublin clinic for whom he has since filmed a promotional video – had revitalised his career. Well, good. I like James Nesbitt. And I like Monroe. A lot, actually: Nesbitt is perfect as the soft-centred surgeon and Sarah Parish (destined, it seems, to play members of the medical profession) offers the perfect female foil as the icy, aloof Bremner.
However – and I'm sorry if I sound superficial here, but I'm not the one who spent goodness knows how much on hair – there's one problem. It's all I can think about. Nesbitt, for me, has become one of those celebrities. One of those people you can't watch without thinking one thing – in this case: "hair!" Rather like Tom Cruise ("nutter!"), Lindsay Lohan ("rehab!") and Jennifer Aniston ("single!"), he has assumed an identity in his own right. A distracting, giant hairpiece of an identity.
And so it was that, last night, when the curmudgeonly doctor decided not to operate on his patient, a former squaddie whose beer-and-ketamine-fuelled night out on the town had resulted in his falling over and developing a potentially fatal blood clot on the brain, all I could think was: maybe they should have refused to operate on you. Maybe your hair would have grown back, just like the squaddie's blood clot slowly drained away. And when he flirted with the Eastern European biochemist-cum-coffee maker, all that went through my mind was: good thing you've got hair. And when it gets to the bit where he shaves the head of his patient, well, you can imagine. The associations go into overdrive. Perhaps you don't have the same problem. Perhaps you didn't even know of Nesbitt's hair history. In which case, I've just told you and – in all likelihood – ruined him for you for ever. If that's the case, well, I'm very sorry.
Last night was the final of A Farmer's Life for Me. I know, right: Clear your diaries! Get the wellies out! But – scoff all you like – this was gripping stuff. I've not seen the rest of Jimmy Doherty's win-a-farm competition, and now I wish I had. Who knew driving tractors could be so tense? Of the nine original entrants, just two couples remained in the competition: the capable but somewhat dizzy Ray and Jane and the practical, business-minded Ian and Sue.
The point, said Doherty, was to serve them up the "farming day from hell", full of ploughing and herding and pitching-their-business models. Somewhere along the line I found myself rooting for Ray and Jane, which is good, since they won (this despite an apparent inability to perform basic maths). Still, the farm is theirs, and Jane's lamb burgers will be coming soon to a market near you.
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