The Weekend’s Viewing: There were no real tragic outcomes here, but there were several unexpected ones

A Very English Education, Sun, BBC2 // Boardwalk Empire, Sat, Sky Atlantic

Success is all about being in the right place at  the right time. Like, say, any major British public school at any time since 1066. For that reason,  A Very English Education on BBC2 last night was essential viewing for anyone interested  in better understanding the class of men who  run our country. This humane and genial  documentary also contained insights that a commoner might appreciate: namely that even for the über-privileged, life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it to.

Between 1978 and 1979 the BBC screened a series, called Public School, about life at Radley College, a top boys’ boarding school about five miles outside Oxford. For this new documentary,  the film-maker Hannah Berryman caught up with five of the students featured, now middle-aged men, and asked them to reflect on how a traditional, £3,000-a-term education impacts on the rest of your life.

In true Breakfast Club tradition, they’re a varied bunch: Over-achiever Donald was top of every class, played for the first XI in cricket and rugby, but hid a tumultuous inner-life. Gregarious Paige was reckoned the “school stud” – as to how one earns such a reputation in a boys-only boarding school, I’d rather not speculate – and Tim from North Shields is the closest Radley had to a working-class hero. He stood as a candidate for the Workers Revolutionary Party in the school elections and had a regional accent which, according to Paige, “in terms of the pecking order of the school certainly put him down the list”. Tim got the message, evidently; there’s not the slightest trace of that accent now.

What was particularly satisfying about this documentary is how diligently Berryman posed all the questions that the 93 per cent of state-educated Britons would like answers to but are too  polite to ask. How much money do you make? Was your ability to communicate with women stunted for life? And would you have the heart to send your own children away to boarding school aged just eight?

Unlike Granada Televisions award-winning Seven Up! documentary project that tracked the lives of 14 children from a variety of social backgrounds, there were no real tragic outcomes here, but there were several unexpected ones, including the discovery that floppy-haired poet Rupert ended up joining the army: “It wasn’t  to do with a love of all-male institutions, before you ask.”

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire Speaking of all-male institutions, how about that Boardwalk Empire? The fourth series of the Prohibition-era gangster saga has begun on Sky Atlantic and with Nucky (Steve Buscemi) deserted by his wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) and bereaved by the death of his mistress Billie, it’s turned into quite the sausage party. Only Gillian (Gretchen Mol) is left to represent all facets of womanhood. In this episode alone she petitioned for custody of her grandson, dabbled in prostitution and put her house up for sale, all while strung out on heroin. Now that’s what I call multitasking.

HBO famously spent a record $18m on the first, Martin Scorsese-directed episode of Boardwalk Empire, but the real noteworthy achievement is that every episode since has looked just as lushly cinematic. Meanwhile, the cast of fascinating characters just keeps expanding. We’re promised that Patricia Arquette will turn up as a speakeasy owner later in this season and old favourite Chalky White (Michael K Williams, aka Omar from The Wire) looks set to get more screen time now he’s finally persuaded Nucky to let him open a Cotton Club-style premises on the Boardwalk.

Remember how that obnoxiously anachronistic soundtrack on the BBC’s 1920s-set drama Peaky Blinders, and how it just felt desperately try-hard? Boardwalk Empire’s secret is a painstaking attention to historical accuracy that makes it all seem so effortlessly cool.

twitter.com/MsEllenEJones

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power