review

It is the turn of the century, at least according to the calculations of Mr Reisner, an ebullient Romanian builder who has erected a large electric sign reading "Welcome to the New Century" in front of his house. His xenophobic English neighbours, on the other hand, take the view that he is being precipitate, that the new century will begin in 1901 and that this brash advertisement for modernity should come down. "This is not your land," they sputter, encompassing ownership and nationality in one phrase. It is a scene absolutely characteristic of Stephen Poliakoff's Century (BBC2), blending as it does a vitality of period invention and the arch portent of the dialogue.

It would usually matter far more that a writer had left crowbar marks on his work, showing where he had levered meaning into place, but Century proved to be an unusual mixture of realistic obliquity and mannered fable, a hybrid which was permissive of such touches. The narrative begins with its feet on the ground - a drama about the tyranny the future can exercise on the present, exposed through the experience of a clever young doctor - but it keeps threatening to lift into the gravity-free realm of a symbolic dream. It is the sort of film in which you encounter hallucinatory scenes: a woman carefully eats marzipan fruit as a man in the salon nearby lectures on eugenics to tea-sipping ladies; two researchers stand in the pouring rain, speculating about diabetes, as brilliant streams of dye from a nearby workshop trickle between their legs.

At the Whiteweather Institute, Paul Reisner meets another man who is eager to hurry our journey into the future, Professor Mandry, a scientific magus who manipulates a team of young male acolytes by playing on their rivalries and ambition. The institute, fantastically located both at the heart of the Victorian city and in rural parkland, appears to be a realm of freedom, a place where sexual and intellectual inhibitions have been released. Paul begins to fall in love with Clara, one of the laboratory assistants and a young woman whose moral assurance is a willed form of anachronism - she has arrived in the late 20th-century decades before her contemporaries. But the liberality of the institute turns out to have malevolent forms; Professor Mandry has been sterilising the local poor - cruelly protecting an idealised future at the expense of an imperfect present. Poliakoff, who has always been interested in ideas of progress and technological change, implies that the same human energy which moves society's clock onwards can easily mangle those who get in its way, that the presumption that one can securely predict the future can easily poison our immediacy. The humane triumph of the drama occurs when Paul finally persuades Clara to surrender her conviction that their relationship will not work. "Say it Clara," he insists, "Say you don't absolutely know it won't work. Say it before midnight." When she does, the future is open again instead of closed, whatever doubts and uncertainties might slip through that opening.

If Century was history as argumentative fantasy, A Royal Scandal (BBC1) offered you history as a funhouse mirror - a familiar image distorted into a comedy of half-recognition. "When I am Princess of Wales I want to be loved by the people," says Caroline of Brunswick, a flighty girl who will have to deal with preferred predecessors, unsympathetic relatives and a husband who does not love her. Before long, the royal couple are competing for public opinion - "I don't want a peaceful life - I won't go quietly," snaps Caroline, after deciding to fight back against the weapons of protocol. Sheree Folkson very wisely presented this collage of history quotations with a formal symmetry - a gavotte of historical record rather than an attempt at dramatic realism. It included a wonderfully caricatured performance from Richard E Grant as the Prince -essentially a succession of disgusted looks, modulated by intoxication, nausea, self- pity and rage - and it conducted itself throughout with a quite delicious courtliness.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss