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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CONTENTS - PETER CRAW­LEY

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.

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