TV Review: Stephen Fry: Out There BBC2
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 15 October 2013
Stephen Fry is an eloquent and erudite host on any topic. That's what makes him the natural choice to present BBC2's QI and as well as countless Radio 4 documentaries and panel shows. But Stephen Fry on a subject as close to his heart as this? That's a different and special proposition. The last film he made that was this personal, 2006's The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, won an Emmy.
At the beginning of Stephen Fry: Out There, a two-part BBC special about gay people and the trouble people have accepting them, Fry explains his interest with the detached air of an amused academic. Isn't homophobia absurd, he says – "It's as if you met someone who spent all their life trying to get rid of red telephones." Absurd it is, but will Fry remain so detached when face to face with such hatred?
At home in Britain his interviews were mostly rather cosy. He was a guest at the wedding of Andy and Steve (not Adam and Steve, alas – although I'm sure the producers tried) and chatted about relationships with Elton John and David Furnish in the library of their Berkshire mansion. But Britain has recently legalised gay marriage. In other parts of the world the situation is different.
Uganda is one of the most difficult places in the world to be gay, as has already been detailed in last year's excellent documentary Call Me Kuchu. With the clout of the BBC behind him, Fry confronted two of the country's chief hate-mongers, Pastor Solomon Male and government minister Simon Lokodo. He first tried to debate with them, then to laugh at them – "My penis isn't terrorising anyone!" – and finally just became exasperated. Perhaps this is the real lesson of the programme: there is no use debating with bigotry. We can only wait it out.
So, what's a posh English bloke doing marching around the world telling politicians how to run their countries? Post-colonial undertones will be inevitably present in any such project, but Fry says he prefers to take a "more cosmopolitan approach" to human rights and this episode began to explore what that might mean. Fry was clearly deeply moved, for instance, by his conversation with Farshaad, 28, a gay man from Iran seeking asylum in London. "If the British Government sends you back to Iran and the worst happened, and you were hanged, it would be a crime that would be on the head of every one of my countrymen and it would shame me."
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