Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1), TV review: A rip-roaring story from Brian Blessed - with some surprising miner details
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.
Friday 15 August 2014
There weren't enough reaction shots in the Brian Blessed episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1). When the 77-year-old actor was bursting into song on the train from London to Doncaster or projecting poetry to the metaphorical back row of a busy city street, we could only imagine the looks on the faces of the people passing by. Let the impressionists try to do justice to his rambunctious good humour, no one booms like Blessed, and in real life he's the fruity-voiced thesp exactly as advertised.
It came as more of a surprise to learn that this Shakespearean actor is the son of a miner raised in the South Yorkshire town of Mexborough and, moreover, that the name Brian Blessed was no Equity card invention, but given to him at birth. Blessed's father was a miner, and his father's father before him, but what of the rest of the line? Did they live up to their wonderful surname?
Who Do You Think You Are? often requires some imaginative input from the celebrity descendant. A few lines from the parish birth register, a grainy black and white photo and from this we must conjure up a whole human lifetime. Blessed had no trouble on that account, however.
As he stood in St Pancras Chapel, where his great-great-great-grandfather Barnabas Blessed had married in 1801, he put his dramatising powers to work on the scene, casting himself in the roles of both groom and bride, naturally: "BRAAAAVOO, Barnabas! Oh you MAAARVellous man!"
Alas, the good fortune of this ancestor was short-lived and Blessed, a man of obvious empathy, was deeply moved by a tale of infant mortality, orphaned children and the horrors of the workhouse.
At least by the mid-19th century, things were looking up. Jabez Blessed, his great-great-grandfather, had moved to Lincolnshire and fathered a total of 13 children, all of whom lived to adulthood. This virility Brian took as a personal compliment: "He didn't need the purple pill, did he? He was a RAAAANDY man! He served his country well!"
When our journey finally came to an end at Jabez's gravestone, he looked down at the ground and addressed his ancestor directly: "You lived life, Jabez! You lived it!" A merely symbolic gesture, perhaps, but then again, if anyone has a voice to wake the dead, Brian Blessed does.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 3 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
House of Cards season 3: Claire Underwood is based on an eagle, says Robin Wright
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut