Netflix & Quill
Fiona Sturges on mean-chimp doc Dynasties
Under a parched tree on the edge of the Sahara sits a chimpanzee with cauliflower ears and a thousand-yard stare. The alpha male of his 32-strong group, David is the battle-scarred king of the swingers, although maintaining his status means that every moment is spent sniffing out dissent. If the younger males aren’t beating seven bells out of each other, they are banding together and plotting to dislodge their leader, coming at him with sticks or lobbing clods of earth at his head.
Viewers mourning the absence of oldfashioned bloodletting and gore in the autumn schedules should look no further than the new David Attenborough series, Dynasties (Sunday, 8.30pm, BBC One). Not since House Stark crumbled in Game of Thrones have we seen such vicious backstabbing, ruthless power moves and brutish, bruising violence. Just because we don’t see sibling incest doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Two years in the making, the opening episode follows a gaggle of critically endangered chimps in Senegal where water is scarce and breakfast consists of termites teased out of sandy mounds using grass stems. Theirs is a gritty tale of loyalty, duplicity and the dogged struggle to survive. The burghers of Westeros have nothing on these fearsome beasts. David has been the leader of the group for three years but allies are increasingly thin on the ground and the junior males are restless. No wonder all hell breaks loose when a trio of chimpettes saunter by, their swollen rear ends signalling that they’re ready for some hot lovin’. Far be it for me to pass comment on a person’s downstairs department, but their glistening lady parts resemble a flash sale at Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The young ’uns are keen for some action, but David knows he must be the one to seal the deal. Failing to father the next generation is to confirm he isn’t the ape he used to be and that his power is on the wane.
If David is basically Game of Thrones’s Ned Stark, doing good by his family and friends while struggling to assert his authority, the younger, obstreperous male, Luthor, is the odious pipsqueak Joffrey, poised to slaughter his enemies, torture their sons and force himself on their daughters. For every scene featuring a sweetly jug-eared infant, there are 10 more of snarling teens beating up elderly chimps and cooking up a violent coup. Such is the hardship and brutality on display that the occasionally anthropomorphised touches are entirely welcome, although when we are introduced to “an alpha male known as David”, you fully expect a young chimp to swing by shouting: “Oi! Dave, fancy a pint?”
Attenborough’s narration delivers harsh truths about life and death in his customary avuncular, seen-it-all tones, all set against a rumbling soundtrack that conspires to make your heart swell one minute, and then smash it to bloody smithereens the next. Shot in eye-watering closeup and unafraid of showing us nature’s cruel underbelly, Dynasties is quite the departure from Planet Earth’s elegant, widescreen splendour.
Pull up the drawbridge and ready the direwolves. Winter is coming.
‘Not since House Stark crumbled in Game of Thrones have we seen such vicious backstabbing’
Alpha fail?: David ponders his options