TV Reviews: Panorama and Our Mutual Friend

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
"You've got to 'ave a laugh now and again, 'aven't yer?" whined a disruptive neighbour in last night's Panorama (BBC1), evicted after a series of drunken atrocities. As a whole series of recent programmes have shown, there are few people quite as injured as a "neighbour from hell" asked to account for his or her actions. And the mood of the moment is such that these protestations of innocence can be reliably expected to stoke up the viewer's indignation even further. Not only do they threaten to burn down their neighbours' houses or push faeces through the letterbox - they lie about it afterwards, the brazen sods. The mood in councils about such tenants has changed too, with a push from central government, and Mark Sigsworth's film looked at the consequences of that alteration. What was odd about it was the way in which it played so uneasily against the current appetite for "something to be done".

For the first 20 minutes it looked to be just another exercise in social affront, indistinguishable from those which had gone before in its blend of tearful victims and shrieking harridans. By the end it was clear that it was raising a voice of doubt about the new "get tough" policies against anti-social neighbours - but it did it so tentatively that you could have been forgiven for not noticing. It was worried that a kind of respectable lynch law might be operating, but wanted you to understand that it quite understood how much some people deserved lynching.

The hesitation was easy to understand. When it used the word "protection" towards the end it was applying it not to old ladies terrified to leave their houses because of the hooligans opposite but to the hooligans themselves. And clearly the idea that we should worry about such things is nowhere near as satisfying as the notion of baddies being routed, chased out of town to some imaginary limbo in which they no longer have neighbours. It smacks of just the liberal agonising that permitted the outrages in the first place. But the report did raise some proper concerns: it looks as if councils and police can now combine to punish those who they deem haven't been sufficiently punished by the criminal courts. For another, guilt by association is enough - as in the case of a woman evicted from council housing because of the activities of her boyfriend. Most pertinently of all the problem isn't solved, simply relocated to some appalling private sector ghetto. Again, the notion of all these people tormenting each other, rather than decent tenants, is rather alluring but they are unlikely to stay so meekly enclosed. The film could have done with a positive to add to its hesitant negatives - perhaps by looking at the rare schemes that exist to educate bad neighbours rather than evict them - but, however quietly, it was saying a true thing. Even bullies shouldn't be bullied.

Justice in novels is so much easier. Last night Our Mutual Friend (BBC2) came to an end dispensing punishments and rewards with a most soothing clarity. I haven't been quite as overwhelmed by this adaptation as many of my critical colleagues and I've been slightly at a loss to pin down why, since it is undeniably the best thing in this line for some time. The acting is mostly superb, while the direction has a marbled, unhomogenised quality which is attentive to Dickens' writing, the way in which he mixes idioms so freely, moving from sentimental formality to something far more jaunty and mannered without worrying about the join. Sometimes Julian Farino's direction offers you a Victorian engraving, at other moments the artful jump-cuts of a Sixties movie.

But if I'm honest I found myself a little impatient with the pace of some episodes, which combined intense compression of events with barely any compression at all. This paid dividends occasionally, such as in the awful build up to the murderous suicide of Bradley Headstone, but in other passages it gave the thing a slightly ponderous solemnity. Still, it was good enough to make me feel distinctly guilty for not liking it more.

Comments