Terence Blacker: It's a fascinating time for love – but TV can't keep up

The Way We Live: As for the scene of a sexual nature about which we had been warned, it was hilariously coy and tame

Share

Every night on TV, it seems that there is something about which we need to be warned in advance. Inappropriate language might be used, or there are scenes which some viewers might find upsetting, or adult themes might be addressed. Not long ago, the BBC included a health warning before a Gillian Welch concert; some jobsworth had presumably found a rude word in one of the lyrics.

Perhaps, then, viewers should not have been surprised on Sunday night when a BBC announcer solemnly warned that the programme they were about to watch contained scenes of a sexual nature. On the other hand, it was 10.30 at night and, since the programme was a play called True Love, a bit of sex was possibly to be expected.

On this occasion, the effect of a broadcaster's fear of offending was not simply to annoy and patronise viewers. It messed up the story, revealing the outcome of a will-they-won't-they tale of infidelity before a single word of dialogue had been spoken.

As for the scene of a sexual nature about which we had been warned, it was hilariously coy and tame. Meant to be the last, tragic, erotic meeting of lovers doomed never to be together, it looked more like a Saturday-night marital cuddle beneath the blankets.

Love is going through a peculiarly interesting phase at the moment, and yet television seems bizarrely unable to capture what is going on. The power balance between women and men has shifted, a parallel universe of sexual fantasy is available online, and new kinds of meetings and relationships are available through chatrooms. In spite of all that – or perhaps because of it – there is a general sense that couples are becoming more understanding and adult about the compromises involved in love.

Yet 21st-century love, while reflected in contemporary fiction, rarely appears in a recognisable form on TV. Romance is wrapped up safely in the clothes of the past, or given a celebrity gloss, through the fairy tale loves of Kate and Wills (good love) or Jordan and Peter Andre (bad love). Drama is on safer, easier subjects – sex, ambition, crime.

It was bold of the BBC to commission a series of short plays on a romantic theme, but the format they have chosen highlights why TV struggles to capture the spirit of modern love. Inevitably, high-profile actors have had to be involved, but their presence risks changing the dynamic and mood of the plays entirely. The husband in Margate, caught between a happy marriage and the love of his life, is no mere bloke in a muddle. He is David Tennant, a star playing ordinary.

Then, as if to compensate for the glitter of its cast, the series has demoted the script, making each play semi-improvised. Everyone has had romantic problems, the thinking must have gone. Why not use that personal experience, and liberate the actors to use their own words?

Yet it is precisely because the components of love – lust, loyalty, guilt, fear, regret, insecurity, relief and so on – are so universal that they need to be written by a good writer. Modern fiction has faced up to the complexity and perversity of love in a frenetic, sexualised, computerised culture, whether in full-length novels (Tessa Hadley, Jeffrey Eugenides, AL Kennedy, Sue Miller) or short stories (Lorrie Moore, William Trevor, Alice Munro, John Updike), but television has so far ducked the challenge. As if uneasy with what it was doing, and desperate to place the series in a safely romantic tradition, the team behind True Love added a desperately corny musical track, in which Dionne Warwick's "What the World Needs Now is Love" and Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" featured heavily.

There is a great early 21st-century romance to be told, a Brief Encounter or a Love Story for the internet age, but it is more likely to appear between the covers of a book than on our television screens.

Sorry Margate, but a Mary Portas makeover doesn't come without strings

It has been a big week for Margate. As well as providing the backdrop for David Tennant and True Love, the town has been at the centre of a controversy involving Mary Portas and her Government-backed scheme to regenerate the high streets of some of Britain's towns.

Having been granted £100,000 of public money, Margate will also be the focus of a Channel 4 programme which will follow "Mary Queen of Shops" as she tries to revive its exhausted retail sector. Unfortunately, some of the shop-owners involved have complained that they have been obliged to sign a "draconian" contract, which includes a clause which prevents them talking about the programme for a year.

The Margate Town Team, which put together the bid for a grant, has complained, with some justification, that the needs of a TV programme are being put before those of the town. Whatever happens to the shops of Margate, and those of the other pilot towns, the Government, with its very contemporary policy, involving a celebrity and guaranteed publicity, is certain to be delighted by the outcome.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker