ALISON ROWAT’S REVIEW
HOW kind of Kit Harington to bring his Game of Thrones handbook when he moved camp to Gunpowder (BBC One). If ever a production had been “throned” it was this drama about the plot to blow up the House of Lords and kill the king.
Admittedly, yer 17th century London was indeed a grubby, cruel old place, but even so. The production designers had clearly studied the success of Game of Thrones and thought, “We’ll have some of that.” So the mud was muddier, the blood was bloodier, the torture was more stomach-churning, and how about the dragon that carried King James off between its talons?
The last did not in fact happen, but I bet someone on the team was tempted. With dragons off the menu, the BBC’s grand offering for Saturday nights had to rely on thespian talent and what looked like Ikea’s entire stock of candles to see it through. Harington, playing his ancestor, plot leader Robert Catesby, had a head start in the authenticity and acting front, Mark Gatiss dusted off his villain act once more, and Peter Mullan did a Sean Connery and played English priest Henry Garnet as a Scot. Rivalling Harington as the best thing on screen was Shaun Dooley as Sir William Wade, enforcer for the king. Fawkes turned up at the end, just in time to rescue what had been a plodder of an opener.
Those in search of light relief after all that blood and guts could turn to
Your Song (STV), in which five pop acts, including Paloma Faith and Rita Ora, surprised fans with impromptu performances as a way of thanking them for their good deeds. Imagine a cross between This is Your Life meets Surprise Surprise by way of The X Factor. As the end credits informed us, Your Song was made in association with Syco Entertainment, the Simon Cowellfounded production company which also makes The X Factor. Surprise, surprise.
Your Song was good, clean, family entertainment, which is certainly not something anyone has ever said about the comedy Man Down (Channel 4). Starring 6ft 8in Greg Davies as Dan, a man as tall as he is useless, the effing and jeffing alone would strip the paint from a battleship. As series four began, Dan’s pregnant ex was on her way back to Blighty to have their baby. Could former teacher Dan grow up, get a job and find a
home before she got here? Have a guess. Davies, who co-writes Man Down, has fashioned a creation who makes Basil Fawlty on his worst days seem like a Zen master. Spectacularly offensive but laugh out loud funny in parts, I particularly love the five star old folks’ home where Dan’s mum is spending his inheritance. I’ve asked for an application form.
The Country Council (BBC One) is an everyday story of folk working for Argyll and Bute Council. As narrator James Cosmo (taking a break from bank ads) told us, councils are the organisations we love to complain about. This documentary, showing as it did cheery community nurses, hardworking speech therapists, and endlessly patient helpline operators, suggested you might want to haud yer wheesht in future.
The programme makers had a difficult path to tread between showing rural life as it is, with not a lot happening, and boring viewers rigid. At one point, two men stood in a road looking at a pothole. The scenery was picture postcard fabulous, but it was still two men looking at a pothole. The tone was relentlessly upbeat as well, with any negatives, be it lack of cash or staff, filed under that much over-used word, “challenges”. Even David, the parking warden on the sharp end of some very Channel 4 language at times, said he loved his job.
But we did see how the right services, if folk can get them, can make a real difference to people’s quality of life and, as one poignant case study showed, their death, too. It was enough to make you pay the council tax with a song in your heart. Not really, but with less of a scowl at least.
Cheerio, then, W1A (BBC One). Yes, no, yes. Quite. Exactly. I’m not being funny, but this final series of a BBC mock doc that mocks the BBC has had a whiff of the slightly stale joke about it. On its game, though, as in the Match of the Day story about a cross-dressing ex-footballer trying to be a pundit, it was still a blast.
The finale, in which BBC management had to find a programme where Claudia Winkleman could show her serious side or lose her from Strictly, turned out to be a belter, almost making you wish Ian Fletcher, head of values, and his posse of time-servers and bureaucrats could return for another series. Yes, no, yes. Quite. Exactly. Actually, make that a no: W1A was so accurate it was in danger of giving the real BBC ideas. Newsnight on Ice with Claudia Winkleman anyone?
Tom Cullen and Kit Harington in the BBC drama Gunpowder, the designers of which had clearly studied the success of Game of Thrones