TV review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Someone must have had TS Eliot in mind when they scheduled The Scold's Bridle (BBC1) for the Easter weekend. Forget all that stuff about resurrection and resurgence, forget the sprightly dance of young lambs and the first shoots of green - April is the cruellest month. Tony Bicat's adaptation of Minette Walters' murder mystery began with an image of innocence - a small girl dressed in white, skipping through a country garden - but what followed was almost stupefying in its compendiousness: drug addiction, gang rape, incestuous abuse, infidelity, patricide, sado-masochism, greed, hatred and murder. What was even more astounding was that David Thacker's direction and the performances of Miranda Richardson, Douglas Hodge and Bob Peck made this overflowing pot-pourri of vice into something akin to a comedy.

Peck played a local policeman, suspicious about what at first appears to be a somewhat theatrical suicide (the woman is found dead wearing a medieval torture instrument on her head). He initally seems a little treacle- witted, but you later see that his plodding persistance has a sly edge to it. Miranda Richardson is at one point his chief suspect, but turns out to be the story's moral centre - a dependable local doctor married to Hodge's philandering artist. It was all very complicated and ended with a savage final grace note - a vision of that small girl brutalised by her father. But it also preserved, rather better than some thrillers, the sense that most lives flow around a tragedy, agitated, but almost certain to return to some kind of calm.

There was much talk in Scold's Bridle of inherited misery, a poison which is passed on as a kind of family legacy. Rather less sombrely this was also the subject of Number Ten: The Unluckiest House in the World (C4), a promotional preamble to Brookside's forthcoming five-night special run which formed part of Channel Four's unconvincing "Night on the Mersey" evening. Made by Brookside producers, this assembled a cast of quiz-show celebrities to reminisce about favourite plot-lines. Quite how they settled on Number Ten as being the most ill-omened address I don't know - other houses on the close having hosted electrocutions, euthanasia, fatal viral illnesses and a Waco-type conflagration involving religious maniacs. There were some nostalgic pleasures here and some good contributions from actors involved with the programme, but I couldn't work up much excitement for hearing what Carol Smillie or Lloyd Grossman had to say. I suppose they just couldn't persuade Antonia Byatt or Seamus Heaney to take part. Admittedly such contributors might have deprived us of seeing Sian Lloyd characterise one celebrated plot line as "the greatest love story of all time" - ah yes, Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Isolde, Billy and Sheila.

Probably the best things over the weekend were the first two parts of Arena's trilogy (BBC2) about Noel Coward. The backbone for this series was home movie footage, the words "never been seen before" introducing wonderful cine sequences which illustrated readings from Coward's diaries. But there were other good things too, in particular large chunks of an old Omnibus interview with the writer by the young Patrick Garland. Here Coward had already attained that condition where virtually every utterance could be taken as the most finely honed witticism, the diction like a perfectly arched eyebrow which warns you to behave yourself and laugh at the appropriate moments. The finest moment came in the first part, when he was recalling his youth in Battersea, a period of almost perpetual truancy. How did you educate yourself, asked Garland? "I belonged to Battersea Park's Public lavato..." replied Coward, before stopping to correct himself. "Not lavatory, what am I saying. Library. Freudian slip." In that sequence his clipped manner combined with the fact that gave rise to it - an inadmissible privacy which forced him to polish his public exterior to a reflective gleam.

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