Gim­micky fare, but Becky’s be­witch­ing

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As Body­guard grip­pingly con­tin­ues, I can’t help think­ing how great it would be to have DS David Budd about the house. We have a slug prob­lem in the kitchen (I know: ugh) but he could go down first in the morn­ings and do one of those se­cu­rity sweeps, then usher me through with an ‘All clear, ma’am. All clear, ma’am. Not about to step on one bare­foot, ma’am.’ And if he then wanted to have sex and show me his bum, how could I refuse, given the use­ful ser­vice he had just pro­vided?

So we’re keep­ing our eye on Body­guard, of course, but can’t fo­cus on it this week as there’s so much else, in­clud­ing Van­ity Fair and Wan­der­lust and Press. First, Van­ity Fair, which kicked off with a two-star episode, but as it then de­liv­ered four stars with the sec­ond episode, I’ve split the dif­fer­ence. This adap­ta­tion of Wil­liam Make­peace Thack­eray’s clas­sic story about pen­ni­less Becky Sharp do­ing what­ever it takes to rise up through so­ci­ety stars Olivia Cooke, who is en­tirely cap­ti­vat­ing, but ini­tially she was ill served by the at­ten­dant aes­thet­ics, which were too mod­ern, too fran­tic, too dis­tract­ing.

The first episode opened with Becky flounc­ing away from Miss Pinker­ton (a se­vere Su­ranne Jones) and her London Academy For Young Ladies, and it wasn’t just any old London as it was that Very, Very CGI London, as last seen in Vic­to­ria. Maybe Queen Vic­to­ria was out in her car­riage one day and ac­tu­ally passed Becky in this Very, Very CGI London? Who knows?

So it was this, plus all the gim­micks. Michael Palin hang­ing around. A Bob Dy­lan song on the sound­track. Becky pulling faces and wink­ing to the cam­era. I was long­ing for the BBC to wrench it from ITV’s hands and just do it straight. Becky’s woo­ing of her friend Amelia’s brother, Jos, was even played with a sit­com aes­thetic. Jos is, as his fa­ther pointed out, ‘a great lardy lump’, but for this ever to have any emo­tional mus­cle we must be al­lowed to take the nar­ra­tive se­ri­ously. And, no, Amelia’s fam­ily would not have had a dis­ap­prov­ing black ser­vant but, by in­clud­ing one, the racism of the time was not ig­nored. I thought the ser­vant was the clever­est thing about this episode, in fact.

As we left it after the first hour, Becky had been dis­patched to the coun­try­side to be­come a gov­erness as em­ployed by Doc Martin. (Ac­tu­ally, Sir Pitt Craw­ley but played by Martin Clunes at his most Doc Martin-ish.) I there­fore ap­proached episode two with a heavy heart yet, quite un­ex­pect­edly, it re­ally took off. Cooke and Clunes had real chemistry, it turned out, plus there was no face-pulling or wink­ing, and also Frances de la Tour trucked up, steal­ing the show as mon­strous Aunt Matilda. It was far slower paced, too, which fi­nally al­lowed for some emo­tional en­gage­ment. Amelia’s heart­break. Her fa­ther’s bank­ruptcy. Both truly mov­ing. And you be­gan to feel for Becky, par­tic­u­larly after that lit­tle speech she gave to Raw­don Craw­ley (Tom Bate­man) about her sit­u­a­tion. I couldn’t have cared less about her after the first episode but was root­ing for her by the end of the sec­ond. One ques­tion, though. Is Johnny Flynn’s Dob­bin meant to be so spec­tac­u­larly wooden? Is there some­thing I’m not get­ting here?

Wan­der­lust stars Toni Col­lette, who has said she’s happy to take the ac­co­lade as ‘the first woman to have an or­gasm on BBC1’, although didn’t Emily Wat­son have a few of those in that broom cup­board dur­ing Ap­ple Tree Yard? Or was it just wind? Ei­ther way, Col­lette plays Joy, a ther­a­pist re­cov­er­ing from a cy­cling ac­ci­dent who has to get back on her bike in more ways than one. But she doesn’t want to have sex with her hus­band, Alan (Steven Mack­in­tosh), a teacher. They try. It’s awk­ward. She buys sexy lin­gerie, which is also awk­ward, painfully so. He has sex with a col­league, Claire (Zawe Ash­ton). She has sex with Marvin (Wil­liam Ash), a man she met at her hy­drother­apy ses­sions. Joy and Alan are now ask­ing each other: can we stay mar­ried but just have sex else­where?

This is a drama about what sex means, but it’s be­set by wish ful­fil­ment (would Claire be at all in­ter­ested in Alan?) and the char­ac­ters don’t feel fully re­alised. Col­lette is won­der­ful, of course, but wouldn’t Joy have some un­der­stand­ing that if you’re in a re­la­tion­ship, sex out­side it is never just me­chan­i­cal? Be­ing a ther­a­pist and all. To tell the truth, I found them both rather bor­ing (although him more than her) and also found their sex life rather bor­ing. Why don’t they just go to John Lewis and cheer them­selves up with new tow­els or some­thing? Like nor­mal peo­ple?

And now I’ve run out of space for Press so we’ll have to save that for next week. I con­fess: there is cur­rently so much to watch I’ve even quite lost track of Eight Go Ral­ly­ing: The Road To Saigon. Tell me, is it still Four Go Ral­ly­ing While Four Go By Hired Mod­ern Cars With AirCon And Power Steer­ing? Or have they since said ‘sod it’ and all jumped into he­li­copters?

Olivia Cooke in Van­ity Fair

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