A very important series of British rituals will be played out during the Last Night of the Proms, a mostly harmless display of patriotic fervour that unites the upper middle classes at around this time of year. First, of course, is all the flag-waving and singalong to famous tunes such as “Jerusalem”, which will no doubt receive special treatment this year as the promenaders mark the centenary of the birth of Hubert Parry, who laid the track, you might say, to William Blake’s lovely lyrics.
It will also be the occasion for much discussion about where the nation stands a century on from the end of the war to end all wars, and, indeed, possibly the last proms concert that will be held under British membership of the European Union. How many European blue-and-yellow-starred banners will we be able to count? Plus there will be the perennial commentary about whether the whole thing is degenerating into a sort of EDL rally with straw boaters. So, lots to look forward to, eh? Next year, by the way, the last night of the Proms will mark 80 years, perhaps to the day, since the outbreak of the Second World War. The voice of Neville Chamberlain, I suspect, will become very familiar.
I’m guessing that most people attracted to the union jack-waving larks at the Royal Albert Hall, either in person or via modern communications, won’t be the types to pay much attention to Massacre at Ballymurphy, broadcast at the same time on Channel 4. Nor has anyone else paid much attention to the events in this corner of West Belfast at the peak of the Troubles. Like the Bloody Sunday massacre a year later, it concerns the actions of the British army, admittedly under intense pressure during a wave of terrorism, towards the 11 civilians shot dead over two days. Almost half a century on it remain highly contested, with high-profile campaigning on both sides. Documentary maker Callum McRae presents the facts as he sees them. One question is whether justice can be secured for anyone after such a length of time, and, for some, whether conventional ideas about law and order could be expected to prevail in the near civil war then enveloping the province.
Otherwise it’s a great, or at least promising, week for drama. The hit of the moment, Bodyguard, shows every sign of maintaining its momentum. If you recall, last week saw a near fatal attempt on the life of home secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the perpetrator of which was unidentified at the end of the episode – a real cliff-hanger. Last week also saw the hunky bodyguard Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden) get his backside out for the purposes of delighting the nation’s press, desperate as we/they are for something to get worked up about in a mostly quiet month for news thus far. Anyway, the most celebrated pair of buttocks in British television are back this weekend.
That same bottom, and the dramatic events it plays its own small part in, has, so to speak, comprehensively overshadowed ITV’s perfectly respectable Vanity Fair. Becky Sharp (Olivia Cooke) is still climbing her way up the social ladder, and there’s a lot of bonnetry and breechwear in this latest adaption of Thackeray’s classic. But it really doesn’t stand much chance against the manifold explosions blowing audiences away over on BBC1.
All I can suggest for Wanderlust is that you stick with it and, in some sympathy with one of the show’s central sexual obsessions, maybe opt to enjoy it alone, given that it’s the sort of show you could not easily sit down with your nan, say, to watch. Long story short: couple, middle-aged, don’t fancy each other much, but still in love, open marriage opted for, do they tell the kids? Graphic sex talk and unerotic sex scenes throughout. First episode not that good; might improve.
I’m similarly lukewarm about Press, which purports to be a gripping, topical take on the fast-moving world of the media, with added spooks, politicians, gay dead footballers and bullying editors. And sex. And booze. So, all part of journalism, true, but somehow the piece is less than the sum of its formidable parts, including some exceptional acting talent deployed (David Suchet, Charlotte Riley, Ben Chaplin, Priyinga Burford).
We might enjoy more luck with Channel 4’s No Offence, which is a take on politics, police and “a storm in a far right tea cup”. Joanna Scanlan stars.
I am, I have to say, looking forward to Princess Margaret: the Rebel Royal. The Queen’s sister died in 2002, and has since lost much of what was left of her fame, which had in any case faded markedly during the last difficult years of her life, as she struggled with alarming ill health. However, an irregular run of TV shows and books (including an outstanding collection of anecdotage by Craig Brown) has kept her memory alive among a small but determined band of Margaretistes, who are, in the main, simultaneously fascinated and appalled by this strange woman. It’s a bit trite to claim she was the first modern royal and all that, but she was certainly the first major one to get divorced in many a long year, and she set a whole series of other precedents, not all of them welcome, while always clinging to her titles, privileges, wealth and status, meaning that no one could leave a party until she had decided she had had enough. A window into a small lost world occupied by a small rather lost woman.
Though I’ve never understood the attraction, it would be remiss of me not to at least mention the Strictly Come Dancing launch show. As with the sidebar of shame on a popular online news service, Celebrity Big Brother and much else besides, I can’t say I recognise many other names on the list of 15 “celebrities” who are going to be participating, but I have heard of the hosts, Tess Daley and Claudia Winkleman, and apparently they’ll be dancing to some classic hits by Chic, who I have definitely heard of.
Last, Classic Albums: Amy Winehouse – Back to Black, is on BBC4, one of a run of shows devoted to the life and talents of this remarkable figure, who did so much to revitalise music, adding style and glamour to a brilliant ear for a tune and finely honed lyric. Whatever else, there’s no doubt the press followed its very worst instincts when covering her, constantly invading her privacy and leaving her no peace. Her end always makes me feel ashamed to be a journalist. She died in 2011, and would have been 35 years old this month. Unforgettable.
Last Night of the Proms (BBC2, Saturday 7.15pm); Massacre at Ballymurphy (Channel 4, Saturday 9pm); Bodyguard (BBC1, Sunday 9pm); Vanity Fair (ITV, Sunday 9pm); Wanderlust (BBC1, Tuesday 9pm); Press (BBC1, Thursday 9pm); No Offence (Channel 4, Thursday 9pm); Princess Margaret: the Rebel Royal (BBC2, Tuesday 9pm), Classic Albums: Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (BBC4, Friday 9pm)
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