The Daily Telegraph
The Succession-style saga of Brazil’s populist leader
The Boys from Brazil: Rise of the Bolsonaros (BBC Two) promised to tell “the remarkable rise of one of the world’s most controversial leaders”: Jair Bolsonaro. It is certainly a colourful story.
Bolsonaro is the former Army captain who spent years on the political fringes, invited onto TV shows because, in the words of one observer, “you could guarantee he would say something completely mad”. He was an unabashed fan of the country’s former military dictatorship, and regarded by many as little more than a right-wing rent-a-gob who revelled in saying the unsayable. He would rather have a dead son than a gay one, Bolsonaro told one interviewer; in a televised encounter in Congress, he told a female politician: “I wouldn’t even rape you because you don’t deserve it.”
Yet in 2018 he was elected president of Brazil, and is running for reelection. A political commentator summed it up: “He was funny and he was a joke. Until he wasn’t funny and he wasn’t a joke.”
The programme told us that his predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was popular with liberals and feted by world leaders over his promises to protect the Amazon and support gay rights. But, outside the big cities, swathes of the population were socially conservative, believed in traditional family values and put their nation’s prosperity ahead of saving the rainforest. Bolsonaro was their man. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
The documentary was a decent primer on Bolsonaro’s life story, and the last 60 years of Brazilian politics. There were little details to stick in the mind, such as Bolsonaro referring to his three sons by number – 01, 02 and 03 – rather than their names. The programme title billed this as a family saga, and there were elements of Succession-style drama to the story – as when Bolsonaro decided to exact revenge on his ex-wife by making his 17-year-old son stand against her in a city election. (The son won and, according to one person here, spent his time in office playing video games.)
This first episode of three took us up to Bolsonaro’s decision to run for the presidency, seizing his moment when other politicians were being drawn into a corruption scandal. I’m not quite sure where this series fits into the BBC’S quest for impartiality – with the exception of Steve Bannon and one of Bolsonaro’s sons, the talking heads were critical, and it feels like the broadcaster is holding its nose to explore the concept of populism. Episode two promises a mix of “murder, hate speech and dirty tricks”.
The casting in The Suspect (ITV) is raising my suspicions. What, for example, is the actress Sian Clifford doing in a bit part that requires her to appear only once an episode, droning on about her wedding plans? Hmm. And when a character is played by Adam James, who has cornered the market in shifty upper middle-class cads – we last saw him in Vigil – then that character requires our attention.
James plays Dr Jack Owens, a consultant neurologist who diagnosed his old university pal, Dr Joe O’loughlin (Aidan Turner) with early onset Parkinson’s. That same day, a woman with ties to O’loughlin was murdered. My working theory is that O’loughlin doesn’t have Parkinson’s at all, and is somehow being set up by Owens. Although that’s probably what we’re supposed to think – and perhaps why they’ve cast James in the first place – and the reveal could be far cleverer than that. Also, it doesn’t explain where Clifford comes into it.
This remains a crackpot drama. It is mad, and now teetering on the edge of being bad. At one point, O’loughlin’s wife (Camilla Beeput) finds two photographers in her garden at night, trying to take her picture through the window. Before you can say, “Now that’s against the IPSO code of conduct, plus no self-respecting photographer would try to do that using a flash,” a hunky plumber rushed out to chase them off, then came back in to exchange meaningful looks with her in the kitchen. I think I’ve heard about films involving desperate housewives and hunky plumbers, and they’re not usually on ITV at 9pm. Anyway, the plumber also makes me suspicious.
The writing flings in plot developments like there’s no tomorrow. Dr Owens (hmm) advises O’loughlin to tell the police what he was really doing on the night of the murder. “Tell them what?” asks O’loughlin. “Tell them and the whole world that my alibi for not having murdered my ex-patient was that
I was having sex with another ex-patient who just happens to be a sex worker?” Also, there was a bit involving a whale. Not a real one.
It’s silly, but not that silly.
The Boys from Brazil ★★★ The Suspect ★★★