Last night's viewing - Imagine: Jeanette Winterson – My Monster and Me, BBC1; Murder Files: The Haircut Killer, Channel 5

 

A young, clever, troubled girl finds solace from an oppressive mother in the local library, where she begins to read through the fiction stock in alphabetical order. Which end of the alphabet would you suggest she started at for maximum consolation? In this (though in almost nothing else), the young Jeanette Winterson took the conventional route, beginning at A.

According to Alan Yentob in his Imagine film about her, she'd reached the letter M by the time she was 16, and was being thrown out of her home for a love affair with another girl. Which meant that she'd passed Austen and Eliot and the Brontës, and so had a perfect literary model for her vigils on a nearby hilltop, where she could stand windswept and dream of somewhere beyond Accrington. "Of course, I felt like Heathcliff," she said as she revisited the spot. What if she'd got to Virginia Woolf a little earlier though, and the seductive transgression of Orlando and of Woolf herself?

In fact, Winterson only got to Woolf when she went to Oxford, the first time she had a "room of her own" (unless you count the Mini that became her temporary home). But by then she already seemed to have identified literature – or stories – as a sovereign remedy for an unsatisfactory life. They could substitute for the disappointments of reality, but they could also shape what actually happened to you into a better, more satisfying tale. Winterson effectively wrote herself into being, and Imagine's film captured the charm and exhilaration of that success, and the darkness of the depression that engulfed her when the trick didn't work for a while.

She's a very obliging subject for a television profile, a form of portraiture that even the most patient writers can find tiresome. Taken to visit her old terraced house in Accrington, the site of Mrs Winterson's more extravagant excesses, she appeared to sit down without prompting on the stone threshold, re-enacting the punishments of her childhood. And she knows, as a storyteller, what works well. Her recollection of weeping over Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral for the camera here was, almost word for word, the same as one she published in a newspaper in 2008. This isn't a criticism, incidentally. The story is part of the narrative of who she is, and there's no point telling it less effectively for the sake of novelty.

She also knows, I think, what makes a good picture on screen and will supply the words that make it work. So when this film opened with a lovely shot of her looking out over a city at twilight from a high window, she effortlessly knitted the prospect into her own story, stitching it to memories of youth and the vertigo of fame: "It's the temptation of celebrity to throw yourself off the roof of your own life," she said. I'm still not entirely sure what she meant by that, to be honest, but at the time I was distracted by her knowing pastiche of a tent revival preacher for a book festival audience, very neatly elided here with a similar scene from the television version of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. An engrossing story, nicely told at every level.

Murder Files: The Haircut Killer was as briskly knocked together as Imagine was well crafted, full of true-crime clichés and marked by a melodramatic voiceover. But these things have a way of getting through to even the most disapproving of us (Winterson's adoptive mother was a murder-mystery addict) and Danilo Restivo, the killer profiled here, was a murderer straight from central casting. Five's film was also given a grisly fascination by a police video of Restivo prowling a local beauty spot looking for victims. He said he was collecting insects for his lizard. But his bag turned out to contain a filleting knife, a black balaclava and gloves. He also had a taste for true-life crime stories, which made you think.

Suggested Topics
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