TELEVISION REVIEW / Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside

BLACKPOOL has always been a favourite for film-makers - melancholy laid out on a stall, as readily available as seaside rock. Such mournful contrasts at every turn - the sad festivity of coloured lights against that chilly, chocolate sea; fairground music echoing into plangency; the sense of all those factory workers clocking on to work the machinery of fun. But in the past there was at least a notion that there might be some dignity in all of this. You were given a good example in Dream Town (BBC 2), which included archive footage of an old documentary about the seaside town.

The narrator draped himself over the prom railings and mused with sentimental condescension about 'people who call their midday meal dinner, not lunch' (not the sort of people who owned televisions, obviously). The implication was that Blackpool represented an unusually pure notion of pleasure, that the very simplicity of its delights could give more sophisticated observers a frisson of regret for their lost innocence.

No such sentimentality now, or at least a harsher tone taken with illusions. Mark Kidel's film was subtitled 'A Brief Anatomy of Blackpool', a phrase which might once have conveyed a Donald McGill snigger, naughty but nice. Here it sounded more like an autopsy, the town laid out like one of the gruesome admonitory exhibits in the House of Wax ('Kidney of a drunkard' and waxwork impressions of industrial accidents). Certainly David Thewlis, who returned to his home town to act as a guide, expressed his affection in ways that may not have pleased the local Chamber of Commerce. 'I love it here,' he said. 'Everything here is cheap and nasty.' Blackpool, he argued with a smile, appeals to the most bestial side of people, a verdict that was endorsed by a quick pan across a line of novelty hats: the jolly impudence of 'Kiss Me Quick' has soured into 'Cucumbers Are Better Than Men', sexual invitation into sexual insult. They don't exhibit Siamese twins anymore but you get miniature Chippendales instead, a dwarf bumping and grinding in clouds of dry ice.

There were some defenders: a genial circus ringmaster explaining the advantages of budgies as an entertainment medium and the manager of the waxworks, gamely defending her unrecognisable attractions (the Queen appeared to have been modelled on Gerald Ford). Come on in, they said, the water's lovely - but to most viewers it must all have appeared as cold and dirty as the sea lapping along the front.

Philippa Lowthorpe's film, Three Salons at the Seaside (BBC 2), took the chill off you again, adopting a more old-fashioned eye. It was occasionally a touch too deliberate in its attempt to construct a sense of style - there are only so many times you can pan in giant close-up over a row of hair curlers before they begin to go to work on your toes. But, though she was fond of making patterns with her camera and of high crane shots, too, Lowthorpe didn't set up the women she filmed and never looked down on them either.

The dialogue was all - a gossipy account of mortality and frailty played to that peculiar Northern counterpoint of old ladies encouraging each other to talk: 'yes, mmm, yes, ah huh, oh yes?, hmmm.' Most of them appeared to have survived their husbands, preserving favoured hairstyles as an act of remembrance, in the teeth of fashion and the Blackpool winds. The salons themselves are confessionals with hairdryers, a source of consolation and solidarity in a world that seems filled with hernias and colostomies, bypass operations and rest- homes. You could almost feel the lacquer-scented warmth.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project