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Fiona Sturges on mean-chimp doc Dy­nas­ties

The Guardian - The Guide - - Inside -

Un­der a parched tree on the edge of the Sa­hara sits a chim­panzee with cauliflower ears and a thou­sand-yard stare. The al­pha male of his 32-strong group, David is the bat­tle-scarred king of the swingers, although main­tain­ing his sta­tus means that ev­ery mo­ment is spent sniff­ing out dis­sent. If the younger males aren’t beat­ing seven bells out of each other, they are band­ing to­gether and plot­ting to dis­lodge their leader, com­ing at him with sticks or lob­bing clods of earth at his head.

View­ers mourn­ing the ab­sence of old­fash­ioned blood­let­ting and gore in the au­tumn sched­ules should look no fur­ther than the new David At­ten­bor­ough se­ries, Dy­nas­ties (Sun­day, 8.30pm, BBC One). Not since House Stark crum­bled in Game of Thrones have we seen such vi­cious back­stab­bing, ruth­less power moves and brutish, bruis­ing vi­o­lence. Just be­cause we don’t see si­b­ling in­cest doesn’t mean it isn’t hap­pen­ing.

Two years in the mak­ing, the open­ing episode fol­lows a gag­gle of crit­i­cally en­dan­gered chimps in Sene­gal where wa­ter is scarce and break­fast con­sists of ter­mites teased out of sandy mounds us­ing grass stems. Theirs is a gritty tale of loy­alty, du­plic­ity and the dogged strug­gle to sur­vive. The burghers of Wes­teros have noth­ing on th­ese fear­some beasts. David has been the leader of the group for three years but al­lies are in­creas­ingly thin on the ground and the ju­nior males are rest­less. No won­der all hell breaks loose when a trio of chim­pettes saunter by, their swollen rear ends sig­nalling that they’re ready for some hot lovin’. Far be it for me to pass com­ment on a per­son’s down­stairs de­part­ment, but their glis­ten­ing lady parts re­sem­ble a flash sale at Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The young ’uns are keen for some ac­tion, but David knows he must be the one to seal the deal. Fail­ing to fa­ther the next gen­er­a­tion is to con­firm he isn’t the ape he used to be and that his power is on the wane.

If David is ba­si­cally Game of Thrones’s Ned Stark, do­ing good by his fam­ily and friends while strug­gling to as­sert his au­thor­ity, the younger, ob­streper­ous male, Luthor, is the odi­ous pip­squeak Jof­frey, poised to slaugh­ter his en­e­mies, torture their sons and force him­self on their daugh­ters. For ev­ery scene fea­tur­ing a sweetly jug-eared in­fant, there are 10 more of snarling teens beat­ing up el­derly chimps and cook­ing up a vi­o­lent coup. Such is the hard­ship and bru­tal­ity on dis­play that the oc­ca­sion­ally an­thro­po­mor­phised touches are en­tirely wel­come, although when we are in­tro­duced to “an al­pha male known as David”, you fully ex­pect a young chimp to swing by shout­ing: “Oi! Dave, fancy a pint?”

At­ten­bor­ough’s nar­ra­tion de­liv­ers harsh truths about life and death in his cus­tom­ary avun­cu­lar, seen-it-all tones, all set against a rum­bling sound­track that con­spires to make your heart swell one minute, and then smash it to bloody smithereens the next. Shot in eye-wa­ter­ing closeup and un­afraid of show­ing us na­ture’s cruel un­der­belly, Dy­nas­ties is quite the de­par­ture from Planet Earth’s el­e­gant, widescreen splen­dour.

Pull up the draw­bridge and ready the di­re­wolves. Win­ter is com­ing.

‘Not since House Stark crum­bled in Game of Thrones have we seen such vi­cious back­stab­bing’

Al­pha fail?: David pon­ders his op­tions

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