Woman on the verge of a nervous breakout

REVIEW

The Governor (ITV), Lynda La Plante's new series, will stand or fall on the performance of Janet McTeer and, after the introductory episode, I have to say that things look a little unsteady. The problem is the strange lumpiness of her characterisation, a baffling combination of imperturbable poise and sheer panic. She has a peculiar tendency to widen her eyes suddenly, without apparent cause. Actually, it's difficult to think of a circumstance that could account for this expression, but if you imagine someone smuggling live minks in their underwear and being given a playful nip just as they say "Nothing to declare" you will come close. You would be unlikely to entrust her with your house keys, let alone the running of one of Her Majesty's most troubled and violent prisons.

Arriving at her new posting, recently the arena for a bloody riot, Helen Hewitt suspects that the "suicide" of a sex-offender may not be all that it seems. Between toughing it out with her sceptical deputy ("Bloody university high-flyer!"), barking orders for replumbing the men's toilet (budget considerations obviously not a problem) and subduing another riot by power of voice alone, Hewitt also manages to penetrate the cover-up, landing the embarrassing details on her superior's desk.

To be fair, there are times here where McTeer's darting changes of tone begin to make sense - particularly when her macho front for the warders crumbles in moments of privacy. There is a powerful sense of a woman forced to act a part in order to prevail, but it still won't quite rescue the earlier oddities. If she's this good at playing a role now, how come she was so ineffective earlier? Those of a nervous disposition should know that the drama is very violent - I'm not particularly squeamish but the scene in which a sex-offender is butchered to the accompaniment of "Nessun Dorma" struck me as taking a quite unseemly pleasure in bloodletting.

A bloody evening on the other side too: The Hanging Gale (BBC1) opened with the brutal murder of an Irish land-agent after a hedgerow trial ("Who spoke in my defence?" shouts the terrified man. "I did," replies one of his murderers dryly, "I wasn't very convincing.") It ended with the sight of one of the more sympathetic characters parting company with his brainpan, courtesy of a policeman's bullet, a sequence played in slow motion lest you miss any flying fragments. But the violence here isn't simply a designer flourish - it testifies to the sudden, chaotic release of suppressed anger and apprehension. There's fear on both sides, a dangerous circumstance which can only advance the ratchet of violent retaliation.

If the series looked a bit of a joke on paper - an Irish Famine saga designed to boil the McGann family pot - it actually turns out to be very good. It has a didactic strain to it which Gerry Adams would almost certainly approve of, but this is a disregarded episode of history and besides, the drama has room for nuance alongside its instructive outrage. There was a lovely scene in which Michael Kitchen (the replacement land-agent, essentially decent, bound to break because he will not bend) has his wine glass filled to the very brim by his Irish housekeeper. Dumb insolence or peasant manners? Kitchen can't tell, which tells you a lot about him and about a drama that doesn't always feel it has to make speeches.

The only explanation for the result of the Eurovision Song Contest (BBC1) is that Ireland sold Norway the winning song. Ruinous expense avoided on one side, national shame expunged on the other. A good deal all round, though I confess to a certain sadness that the Russians didn't do better with their plangent appeal to a grumbling volcano: "Don't recall your fearful past / Cover yourself, please, with grass." I think that speaks for us all.

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