TV RE­VIEW

Lash­ings of sauce and sus­pi­ciously smooth skin

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - ALI­SON ROWAT

GOOD news and not so good news if you ever have the chance to travel back in time to 1763 Lon­don, the set­ting for Har­lots (ITV En­core,

Tues­day, 10pm). On the plus side, judg­ing by the bloom­ing love­li­ness of the com­plex­ions, the skin­care prod­ucts and makeup are of a qual­ity to be found in any mod­ern-day air­port duty free.

On the not so plus side, the tai­lor­ing is dread­ful. Did you know that some poor ladies of the time had to put up with dresses so badly cut their em­bon­points spilled over the top like cas­cad­ing mel­ons on a badly stacked mar­ket stall? No won­der they could not wait to rip the wretched gar­ments off.

For­give the lev­ity about the mis­er­able busi­ness of pros­ti­tu­tion, but Har­lots started it, Miss. Com­plete with a pound­ing pop score a la Sofia Cop­pola’s Marie An­toinette, this is one pe­riod drama that wants to have its cake and scoff it.

Open­ing pro­ceed­ings by in­form­ing the viewer that one in five women in Ge­or­gian Lon­don made a liv­ing sell­ing sex, Har­lots is not averse to here and there point­ing out the un­hap­pi­ness of the work­ing girls’ lot. But it fan­cies its main busi­ness to be serv­ing up a steamy tale of fe­male ri­valry pep­pered with tit­il­lat­ing scenes and di­a­logue that would have the lads on Viz reach­ing for the smelling salts. Still, it is writ­ten by women. Di­rected by them, too. So that’s OK, then.

Sa­man­tha Mor­ton plays Mar­garet Wells, a madam who has sold the vir­gin­ity of her daugh­ter Char­lotte (Down­ton’s Jes­sica Brown Find­lay) to the high­est bid­der and in­tends to do the same with the next along, Lucy (Eloise Smyth), to fund a move from Covent Garden to the fancier realms in­hab­ited by ri­val madam Ly­dia Quigley (Les­ley Manville). With the ex­cep­tion of lamb to the slaugh­ter Lucy, ev­ery­one is hard as nails and given to lec­tur­ing each other that love is nuffink but a mugs’ game. You just know it will end in tears, but whose we do not know. We may be too busy snig­ger­ing to no­tice.

If it is a touch of class madam and sir are af­ter, may I di­rect your at­ten­tion to De­cline and Fall (BBC One, Fri­day, 9pm), an adap­ta­tion of the finest Waugh satire known to wo­man or man. The tale of a blame­less young cove sent

down from Ox­ford in the 1920s only to plum­met fur­ther, di­rec­tor Guillem Mo­rales’s drama boasts so many riches it ought to be em­bar­rassed.

Be­sides Jack White­hall as the nice but dim cen­tral char­ac­ter Paul Pen­nyfeather, the cast in­cludes David Suchet as Dr Fagan, head­mas­ter of the mi­nor, very mi­nor, public school in Wales where Pen­nyfeather winds up, Des­per­ate Housewives’ Eva Lon­go­ria as Mar­got Beste-Chetwynde (pro­nounced Beast-Cheat­ing), mother of one of the pupils, and Board­walk Em­pire’s

Stephen Gra­ham (pro­nounced Gra­ham) as a porter who may or may not be up to no good.

It was a devil of a job try­ing to pick out the high­light of this, the first of three episodes, but Suchet’s Fagan edged it. If his lines about the Welsh don’t re­sult in com­plaints, I’m a leek. When not dis­pens­ing Waugh­ian barbs or play­ing for slap­stick laughs, De­cline and Fall is con­tent to be gen­tly, de­light­fully funny. Think of it as a warm bath to re­lax into of a Fri­day evening. All Round to Mrs Brown’s (BBC One,

Satur­day, 9.15pm) is about as re­lax­ing as be­ing sus­pended from the ceil­ing while a stranger whips you with a tea towel to win a dish­washer. That was just one of the seg­ments in a rag bag of a pro­gramme that at­tempted to take Mrs Brown’s Boys and mix it with a chat show, The Gen­er­a­tion Game, Ant and Dec’s Satur­day Night Take­away and a flu dream.

The guests on the first out­ing were Judy Mur­ray and her mother Shirley, to­gether with Pamela An­der­son, former Bay­watch star and cur­rent vis­i­tor to Ju­lian As­sange, guest of the Ecuado­rian Em­bassy in Lon­don.

Pammy had a look on her face that skit­tered be­tween shock and awe. One felt her pain. This is def­i­nitely some­thing she will want to talk through with Jules next time.

The Mur­rays, how­ever, were hav­ing a rare old tear, as was the stu­dio au­di­ence. In a one-hour show the chat seg­ment was the only bit worth sav­ing, with Mrs Brown al­most manag­ing to match Mrs Mer­ton in her abil­ity to ask a brows­corch­ingly cheeky ques­tion and get away with it.

Just when you thought it was all over there was a cook­ing seg­ment with Chef Aly. Tonight’s show may well fea­ture spaghetti bolog­nese. They’ve cer­tainly got the mince for it.

Sa­man­tha Mor­ton heads the cast of the bawdy Har­lots, a tale of pros­ti­tutes in 18th-cen­tury Lon­don

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