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


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.


React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower