PA­TRICK FREYNE

I like an­gry clown-peo­ple and moody no­ble­men as much as the next guy, but they’re ev­ery­where

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - STUB -

I need some uni­forms for a tough para­mil­i­tary fight­ing unit; what have you got?”

“Okaaaaay, let me think, how about a bright red jacket, white britches, knee-high boots and a tri­corn hat?”

“For a bru­tal colonis­ing army?”

“Sorry, I mis­heard. I thought you said ‘slightly camp, vaudeville dance troupe’.”

Two BBC dra­mas this week fea­ture 18th-cen­tury red­coats and all I can think watch­ing them is: “Are they go­ing to do a dance?” or “For what con­ceiv­able ter­rain is that cam­ou­flage?” (“Damn it, men, for some rea­son the en­emy keep spot­ting our huge hats and crim­son coats when we try sur­pris­ing them!”)

In the first of th­ese dra­mas, th­ese an­gry clown-peo­ple over­see a mis­er­able pri­son camp, which is, thanks to their colour­ful jack­ets, slightly redo­lent of But­lins-themed sit­com Hi-de-hi!. It’s Jimmy Mc­Gov­ern’s Ban­ished (BBC 2, Thurs­day) and it’s set in an Aus­tralian pri­son colony. Like

Hi-de-hi!, it’s no fun at all. The Aus­tralian ac­cent hasn’t been in­vented yet. The pris­on­ers and guards are starv­ing. The fe­male pris­on­ers are chat­tel. And the God of this uni­verse is tele­vi­sion mis­er­ab­list Mc­Gov­ern.

There are tonal prob­lems. While fe­male con­vict El­iz­a­beth (My Anna Bur­ring) has a grim sense of hor­ror at her sur­round­ings, her costars have seem­ingly wan­dered in from an­other genre. Tommy (Ju­lian Rhind-- Tutt), a fiery man of pas­sion, is cursed with an ex­pres­sion­less man­nequin head, while James (Rus­sell Tovey) faces star­va­tion with the same chummy ex­as­per­a­tion with which Tovey else­where con­fronts messy flat­mates or be­ing a were­wolf. He makes im­mi­nent death seem like some­thing re­ally an­noy­ing.

Slow hand clap

There are some anachro­nisms. Would 18th cen­tury pris­on­ers re­ally en­gage in a slow hand­clap of ap­proval? Would an il­lit­er­ate con­vict tell a joke in­volv­ing the re­cently dis­cov­ered po­lar bear? Would Tommy re­ally woo El­iz­a­beth with a verse from Boyz II Men’s 1994 clas­sic I’ll Make

Love To You?

Then each week’s pri­mary plot is re­solved with the con­ve­nient neat­ness of a sit­com, prob­a­bly Three’s Com­pany. In the first episode the trio must hide Tommy and El­iz­a­beth’s for­bid­den-by-death love from mean old Mr Roper . . . sorry, I mean the colony gover­nor, only to find he’s not go­ing to hang them and is in fact go­ing to let them get mar­ried, de­spite the fact they’re al­ready mar­ried to oth­ers.

This week’s episode has James and Tommy give a bully his come­up­pance. They clev­erly mur­der him with a rock and take the body to the beach (a bit like in

Week­end at Bernie’s) – but the gover­nor, be­cause he’s a legal mav­er­ick, de­cides the mur­der­ing was fair enough.

In short, the gover­nor is soft on crime, re­de­fines mar­riage and even speechi­fies about the dan­gers of in­equal­ity. Frankly, while I’d like to have brunch with him over a copy of the Guardian, I’m not sure he’s sound on 18th-cen­tury pri­son colony man­age­ment.

Ir­ish ac­tor Ai­dan Turner (Tovey’s costar in Be­ing Hu­man) also dresses as a red­coat in a pe­riod drama. He in­sisted his pro­gramme wasn’t “a strip­per show” when pic­tures emerged of him in char­ac­ter with his top off, but there is (spoiler alert) a naked swim in next week’s episode.

Any­way, it’s called Poledance (ac­tu­ally Poldark, BBC 1, Sun­day) and in it ,Turner plays Ross Poledance who re­turns from war to find his fa­ther dead, money gone, sweet­heart mar­ried and a re­stric­tion on raunchy dance moves. “Damn it, Poledance! Your sexy gy­ra­tions aren’t ap­pro­pri­ate for an 18th-cen­tury work­place!” cries his stuffy un­cle.

Mr Dar­ci­fi­ca­tion

The truth is, the Mr Dar­ci­fi­ca­tion of pe­riod drama notwith­stand­ing (orig­i­nal 1970s Poldark Robin El­lis kept his shirt on),

Poldark is more be­liev­able and en­joy­able than Ban­ished.

Poldark seems to have one emo­tional state – a sexy sulk – but there’s gen­uine hurt in those sad eyes and he doesn’t have the anachro­nis­tic val­ues of a 21st-cen­tury time trav­eller.

He aris­to­crat­i­cally protects peas­ants from the ra­pa­cious mid­dle classes, re­stores do­min­ion over his fa­ther’s sullen and flump like ser­vants, and be­grudg­ingly saves his love-ri­val from drown­ing. All in all, if I’m to be ruled by a moody noble­man whose chaffin­gly cum­ber­some clothes oc­ca­sion­ally force him to strip to the waist, Poldark is the man for me.

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