It's always unnerving to find the subject of a biopic turning up in the credits.
You worry that what you may gain in authenticity you're going to lose in terms of candour – the discreditable and the embarrassing tidied out of sight. Fortunately, by the time we got to "Consultant: George O'Dowd" in Worried about the Boy, it was already clear that the script hadn't been airbrushed into blandness. Tony Basgallop and Julian Jarrold's drama about Boy George was a sympathetic portrait, true, but it showed the petty thefts and the neediness and the self-deceit of addiction as well. Even better than that it managed to give the biopic – that most stultifying of genres – a jangled, edgy energy, as if it had taken a couple of illicit tablets before heading out clubbing.
All this is relative, of course. The essential structure of Basgallop's script – a ping-pong to and fro between pre-fame existence and post-fame misery – is a familiar template for showbiz biopics, as was the "first flush of love" montage cut to "My Guy" and the decision to open with a backstage moment from the apogee of the career. As Culture Club warmed up for their appearance on Top of the Pop marking their first number one there was a problem. George had locked himself in the car and was refusing to come out. The final scene showed his emergence, by which time we understood a lot better why a tear had been trickling down his cheek, and were inclined to listen to the cheerful bubblegum pop of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" with a more attentive ear.
It didn't hurt that a Boy George biopic has terrific raw material to work with. The opening scene, in which a breezy careers adviser at Eltham Green secondary school tried to come up with something plausible for the self-made parakeet in front of him, showed you that the Boy George persona – assertively artificial – was in place long before Boy George the act came into being. And Julian Jarrold's direction neatly reflected how important style was to the main characters, using intertitles that reflected the graphic technique of fanzines and magazines like i-D and The Face, which provided the new romantics with their first taste of fame. This was the "I Love the Eighties" element of the drama, bolstered by the fun Basgallop had with the main character's tart wit. "I heard there was a shortage of pricks in London tonight," he snapped at Steve Strange, after the latter had briefly barred his entrance to the Blitz nightclub. "So good of you to come up from the valleys and make up the shortfall." There was also a lovely sequence in which David Bowie turned up at Blitz, descending from the pantheon of glam to recruit dancers for a pop video and causing a stampede of ambitious coxcombs.
The heart of the thing, though, was a fractured love story. "You have no idea how many people love you," George's father told him, as they hunkered down in his flat, besieged by paparazzi. George's agony, though, was that he was less interested in lots of people loving him than in one – his hopes of durable romantic happiness undermined by his tendency to fall in love with toe-dipping heterosexuals. First he broke his heart over Kirk Brandon and then Jon Moss, who was only finally able to lure George out of that locked car by tracing a heart in the condensation on the window. Douglas Booth, androgynously gorgeous as the young George, captured both his strengths and his weaknesses, and Mathew Horne persuaded you that he felt an attraction strong enough to override such negligible details such as gender. Mark Gatiss also did a very neat little turn as Malcolm McLaren, relishing the eccentricity enough to seed the idea that there's another biopic just waiting to be made. Basgallop and Jarrold richly deserve to get the gig if they go ahead.
Wags, Kids and World Cup Dreams extends a recipe that has worked well on BBC3 previously, in programmes such as Blood, Sweat and Takeaways (deservedly turning up in the Bafta nominations last week). The basic ingredients are insulated Westerners and developing world poverty and the method consists of grinding the two together until you produce an emulsified paste of galvanised social conscience and guilt. In this case, the World Cup has been used as an excuse to take five wives and girlfriends and drop them into a Cape Town township called Khayelitsha, where last night they helped out in a local orphanage. The trade descriptions element of the title was not helped by the notorious fragility of footballers' relationships, at least two of the women having parted company with their footballers by the time that they flew out. But that didn't affect the essential physics of the thing.
It would be easy to attack this programme – for its dependency on celebrity, for the faintly prurient shots of cleavage and revealed thong, for the jarring collision between the worlds of tabloid gossip and social tragedy. But if you did so, I think you'd be missing the point. The Wags are a honey trap for the current-affairs averse, and should effectively lure them towards some genuinely shocking revelations about the harshness of township life. It's not a programme you should turn to in the hope of incisive political analysis. "It's really unfair" seems to be as sophisticated as it gets when it comes to the women's reactions. But it was often very moving indeed, and knowledge, however impotent, is always better than ignorance.Reuse content