Gimmicky fare, but Becky’s bewitching
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