Last Night's Television - Personal Affairs, BBC3; Imagine... BBC1

Age cannot dither them

Reviewed,Tom Sutcliffe
Thursday 20 March 2014 02:54

What can you say about the Imagine film "Save the Last Dance For Me", which profiled Company of Elders, a contemporary dance group in which all the members are over 60 years old? Well, as long as you keep it positive you can say a lot. You can say, "It shows us all it's never too late", as the choreographer Chris Tudor did, briefly turning aside from his work on the company's latest dance piece. You can say, "The more you mature the more you have something to say', as Simone Scotto, the group's resident rehearsal director did. You can say words like "inspiring" and "uplifting" and "touching", none of which would be inaccurate but none of which would be particularly surprising or interesting either.

The tricky bit, though, comes when you get to what you can't say, which is anything that rigorously questions the performance that results. That seems irrelevant and improper somehow. After all, between them these performers could assemble an entire textbook of geriatric ailments – from hip replacements to glaucoma – so they were never going to give the Rambert Dance Company a run for their money when it comes to physical expressiveness. That they're doing it at all, at their age, is the point. Failure isn't possible, and because failure isn't possible you wonder whether success is relevant either.

I've got in a bit of a tangle here, since there was a lot in Fran Landesman's film that was heart-warming or (to put it in less patronising terms) exemplary, a lesson about abandoning inhibitions and fear of what you will look like to others in pursuit of an expressive pleasure. "Dance is my spiritual release... my spiritual happiness," said one woman, and her face as she moved underlined her words. Another man, Geoff, was so passionate about dance that there was barely a day in the week when he didn't do at least two classes. He was 85 and had lost his wife and lifetime dancing partner, but he seemed to trip through life as if he had taps on his shoes. "When you see people at the end of their life dancing they really are putting a hand up for life," said the choreographer Richard Alston, who turned up himself to inspect a late rehearsal of the piece. The tricky thing was that you sensed that he himself was then having to choose his words carefully in addressing the group afterwards – accentuating the positive in a way that wouldn't arise if he felt he was talking to his equals – and the final performance was distinctly reminiscent of the kind of glazed, willed rapture that you get from the audience at a children's nativity show. Weren't they all marvellous! The best bit here, the moment that properly honoured genuinely intriguing people (and only average dancers) was the moment when Tudor lost his patience and ticked them off for failing to learn their steps. Suddenly, they looked like a real company – and not a sermon on legs.

Personal Affairs – a bit of chick-lit bubblegum for BBC3 about four PAs in a city bank – isn't abashed about its influences. One of the characters does a Carrie twirl on coming out of the Subway, sorry, Tube station, and they even have the pert little musical stings from Desperate Housewives to remind you that they have their tongue in their cheeks. You'd need a bigger tongue and a much more cheek to get away with this, though. There's a lot of voguish, swooshing montages of the city in the breaks between scenes and Barbie-doll characterisation that gives you a fame-obsessed scouser, a porcelain organisation queen, a sex-hungry vamp and an Essex girl with dreams of jumping the fence from Secretarial to Executive. Last week's opener included several fantasy sequences, in which the various male executives saw their assembled PAs as a harem of dominatrixes or a rank of biddable Fifties stenographers.

Then the fantasy sequences faded away and it became clear that the whole thing is a kind of delirium, as unembarrassed about the ludicrous implausibility of its plotting as it is about the models it aspires to. As the sub-plots mounted – abduction, bank heist, enigmatic stalkers – it dawned on you that it was Enid Blyton with added shagging, a feisty all-girl gang who only break off from mystery solving to have a quick knee-trembler with the lift-repair man or disappear into a stationery cupboard with one of the less repellent bankers. It's terrible, but every now and then it glints oddly in the light in a way that makes it hard to write it off entirely. What are we to make, for example, of the posh lesbian with the Marie Antoinette pompadour and the taste for classical tags? I can't bear to watch another episode to work it out, but if you have suggestions I'd be grateful to receive them.

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