TELEVISION / Power to the people

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE YEAR: 1936. The place: Spain. The country is veering from left to right like a bear on a bicycle. Meanwhile back at the spa, Marian and Martin are learning that the advantages of the people's victory (no more fascists) have to be weighed against the not inconsiderable disadvantages (a small crew in khaki turning up on a motorbike and announcing 'the spa belongs to everyone now'). Victoria Abril, playing Marian, expresses this dilemma of the conscience by turning on the noble facial expressions; one could take Martin's internal wrestlings more seriously if he didn't look quite so much like Michael Jackson.

The Riders of the Dawn (C 4) is a drama about raw political power, about the people rising to claim what is rightfully theirs. Which meant in the sex scene, the girl kept her balaclava on. And which meant people rarely spoke without taking hold of the head of the person they were addressing, the better to achieve a sense of forcefully directed passion. In addition to which was the traditional quota of hearty rural scenes, including an abbatoir sequence, in which a feisty villager took an axe to a pig. The message is, civil war engages our primal political urges and is an inexorable force which splits lovers and families and livestock.

Even so, when the government's prisoners took up arms and swept out of their jail, they were met by a neatly matching swathe of friends and relations. Evidently, when the revolution comes, it will be beautifully choreographed.

The snappily titled Early Travellers in North America (BBC 2) is a series about early travellers in North America. This week, some actors read from the journals of 19th-century writers (all of them witnesses to the white man's encroachment on the plains) and as they spoke, there passed before us some snaps of Indians looking increasingly cheesed off. The chosen passages significantly favoured the wholesome thinking of liberal minds, which may have damaged the programme's accuracy as a piece of history and certainly rendered the overall tone mildly patronising. It was as if we weren't to be trusted with anything more dangerously caught up in the moment.

Still, the liberal voices had their own way of sounding misguided. It seemed popular to dignify the Indians with terms like 'grave' and 'taciturn' - but wouldn't you be, if someone had just sunk a mine in the middle of your house? And one writer was surprised to note 'the affection of Indian parents for their children'. In other words, if you beat up their offspring, they get really upset about it. It didn't help that the actor reading from Dickens affected the sort of eagerly friendly face you associate with the presenters of tea-time shows. In fact, inside this adult television programme, there was probably a half-decent children's radio programme trying to get out.

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