TV and Radio
Home of the Year preaches personality but prefers tomb-like sterility; The Assassination of Gianni Versace suggests there’s no such thing as a designer death; and the BBC’s Civilisations traces human achievements from rise to collapse
Sound and screen reviews
Homes say so much about us, don’t they? This is why they must be silenced. Homes know too much. “What makes a house a home?” begins the voiceover for the fourth series Home of the Year (RTÉ One, Tuesday, 8.30pm). “Personality,” says architect Hugh Wallace. “Colour,” says interior designer Deirdre Whelan.
“The building should really rise from the site,” chances the permanently enthusiastic Patrick Bradley.
That ought to dash the hopes of anyone who has burrowed their way deep below the surface of the earth, but apparently not those who have modeled their gaff on the layout of a nearby wedge tomb.
That, precisely, is the situation of our first competitor. A clean, sharp, geometric edifice in Derry, inspired by their neighbours in a 6,000-year-old burial site, it is as white and off-white and light grey as a dimming view of the afterlife.
Condemned with such as faint praise as “Cathedral-like”, “echoey” and “Ulster House of the Year winner in the 2017 RIAI Awards”, it is a place that asks to be worshipped rather than loved; somewhere to rest your weary bones, so long as you don’t need them back again.
“Who lives in a house like this?” Loyd Grossman used to drone on Through the
Keyhole, a show that understood where personality resides. It doesn’t seem coincidental that these houses resist an answer.
An achingly tasteful and charmingly renovated period home in Wicklow, for instance, clearly accommodates a family of swallows within its elegant eaves, but otherwise gives little away.
“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” says a framed print on the wall. What does it say, then, that there is little here that seems spontaneous? Bradley, tellingly, adores its lack of clutter – “you don’t often find that in traditional houses”. That says it all, really. Nobody’s home.
By the time the judges arrive to the third dwelling, in Down, covering more than 450km in their unrumpled, continuity-abiding clothes, appearance seems to be everything. Here, the judges thrill instinctively to be in the presence of one of their own – its lavish “period-style home” belongs to an interior designer.
“It nearly feels like you’re in a boutique hotel!” approves Bradley, which, if I understand the title correctly, ought to be grounds for immediate disqualification.
But, of course, homeliness is hardly the point of Home of the Year. Death is.
“I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Whelan insists of this, their winner. How about that for a model of perfection? No one ever imagines living there.
Mansion in Miami
Sitting in the sanctum of her brother’s mansion in Miami, just hours after his murder on the steps, Donatella Versace turns her grief into defiance: “I will not allow that man, that nobody, to kill my brother twice.”
Lending her immense beauty to the role, but borrowing acid blonde hair and a tight black leather outfit for it, Penelope Cruz looks slightly less like a late 1990s fashionista than an avenging angel, and nobody should be happier with her casting than Donatella Versace.
But if the Versace family have publicly distanced themselves from The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime
Story (BBC Two, Wednesday, 9pm), that scene seems to anticipate the reason. Why watch a loved one killed twice? Particularly when the show, however expertly made and gorgeous to look at, turns his murderer into a somebody?
Gianni Versace (a magnetic Édgar Ramirez) you already know – “It’s the jeans guy,” one crime scene cop helpfully explains – but if Andrew Cunanan (the implausibly handsome Darren Criss) is not a name that registers it’s because Versace’s killer really was a nobody: a prostitute, a chameleon and a fantasist, with nothing beneath it.
The first episode presents his slaughter like an operatic tragedy, as Gianni leaves the overdone Italianate opulence of his mansion for the trashy pastels of a sunny Miami morning, where his stalker awaits him in 1997.
Slain alongside a single white dove, Gianni’s death might be one worthy of an icon, or at least the launch of the new Spring collection, but writer Tom Rob Smith and director Ryan Murphy always bring something pointedly tacky into frame. A guy hawks a polaroid of the body. Tourists dip a magazine page in Versace’s spilled blood. An aspiring model struts for the TV news cameras. There’s no such
Slain alongside a single white dove, Gianni’s death might be one worthy of an icon, or at least the launch of the new Spring collection, but writer Tom Rob Smith and director Ryan Murphy always bring something pointedly tacky into frame
thing as a designer death.
Instead, there’s a camp tension in everything. Cunanan had met Versace before, and their most significant conversation comes here on the set of an opera designed by Versace – luxurious and fake.
Versace, we understand, was a genius and a creator, but at the service of the wearer. Cunanan was a liar and a destroyer, ludicrously self-obsessed and burning with jealousy.
“I’m sure you’re going to be someone really special one day,” Versace tells him in that make-believe world of the opera set and brushes an eyelash from the young man’s face. Blowing it from the designer’s fingertip with the suddenness of a gun blast, we know what Cunanan wished for.
What we do as humans
Perhaps it is because it seems so primitive that a red outline of a human hand from 40,000 years ago inspires such an immediate tingle of connection. There it is, splayed fingers pressed on the wall of the Cueva de El Castillo, as though saying hello.
“It’s what we want to do as humans,” the animated historian Simon Schama says of such creations. “They establish a presence that is palpably alive. They want to be seen by others and then they want to endure longer than the maker.” This is something cave painters have in common with documentary makers.
No one could ever call it primitive, but the red hand print before Civilisations (BBC 2, Thursday, 9pm) was Kenneth Clarke’s seminal 1969 programme Civilisation, a ground-breaking documentary, seen by many others which has endured longer than its maker.
This programme feels like both an update and a criticism, presented by a relay of three successive historians: after Schama come Mary Beard and David Olusoga.
Extending their scope far beyond Europe, it is a fuller account of civilisations, with a plurality of both subjects and presenters. That seems necessary. Civilisations can change a lot in just 50 years.
Schama, whose grey mane and cerebral vigour recall Ian McKellan at his most animated, marvels at a succession of artefacts, from “the oldest deliberatively decorative marks ever made” on a 77,000-year-old etched piece of red ochre, to the tiny 25,000-year-old ivory Venus of Brassempouy, a face that announces “the dawn of the idea of beauty”. Sometimes, though, I suspect Schama is throwing in professorial jokes to check if his class is paying attention. Of a Mayan etching he points out “a monkey, a magnificently complacent frog and, in the middle, an extremely scary killer rabbit.” Sorry, what?
Nothing gets him going quite like the Pylos Combat Agate, though, a recently discovered etching in a Bronze Age warrior’s gemstone. Of its staggeringly detailed fight scene, Schama says in an husky growl, “Look at those rippling biceps, those muscles, those locked-together bodies… It’s 3D, folks. It’s coming at you.” History has found its hype man.
Such raptures are entertaining, but Schama’s enthusiasm for freewheeling interpretation isn’t quite as informative as some more prosaic discoveries.
Take the hieroglyphic steps of Copán in Honduras, built towards the end of the Mayan empire: its carvings told one story, of proud dynastic succession, but its construction told another, built on shoddy foundations during a crippling drought.
It’s a sobering thought; that civilisations are defined, finally, as much by their collapse as their achievements. This is where we have come from, the show proclaims, inviting another question. How far do we have left to go?
Édgar Ramirez and Ricky Martin in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; David Olusoga, Mary Beard and Simon Schama in Civilisations; Home Of The Year judges Deirdre Whelan, Patrick Bradley and Hugh Wallace.