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Worse than Borgias

by
02 November 2006

MY COMPLETE lack of interest in footer might, I discover with delight, be based on the virtuous foundation of moral distaste rather than the more dubious grounds of being staggeringly incompetent at the sport.

All in the Game (Channel 4, Thursday of last week) purported to reveal what life in a Premier League club is really like. In comparison, the worst excesses of the Borgia popes pale into insignificance. This drama presented the power struggle between, on the one side, the chairman who has risked everything to build a new super-stadium, but faces financial meltdown unless the club produces a series of wins, and, on the other, the manager: popular, charismatic, but underneath a shabby crook.

It veered giddyingly between the extremely good — a wide range of well-drawn characters with satisfyingly complex motivations — and the shockingly bad — collapsing frequently into cliché and meaningful glances. Its main virtue was a bravura performance by Ray Winstone as the manager. Rumbustious, boastful, swaggering when successful; thuggish, violent, blackmailing when cornered; a blubbering baby when defeated. This was acting of the highest calibre, if unfortunately limited in language — the foulest-mouthed TV I have yet seen.

What a relief to turn to the elegant understatement of The Waughs: Fathers and sons (BBC4, Sunday), in which Alexander Waugh examined the relationships between six generations of his family. The great figure is of course his grandfather, the novelist Evelyn, on whose works BBC4 is building a short series.

Alexander structured the film as an exposition to his seven-year-old son, and its real subject quickly became apparent. Examining these famously fraught dynastic relationships — in which affection is often lavished on one child to the despite of the others, with tenderness being expressed movingly in letters, but never face-to-face — are his way of exploring how he should act as a father.

I was more saddened than delighted. Alexander seemed determined, while showing far more love than earlier generations to his son, to hang on to some of the more damaging Waugh characteristics. Why is the obsession with his son rather than his delightful older daughter? Why is fierce family loyalty and the careful cultivation of enmities such a good thing? Personal flaws give astringent relish to Evelyn’s comedies: in real life, they are distressing.

A for Andromeda (BBC4, Saturday) was a remake of the 1960s science-fiction thriller. It looked terrific. Deep in windswept northern moors, a top-secret bunker hides a gleaming hi-tech installation, whose scientists pick up a signal from outer space. The brilliant geek decodes the message, which instructs them to build a computer, which in turn creates an artificial human being — a staggeringly gorgeous woman, as it happens.

Andromeda will use her extra-terrestrial powers to help us fight disease, but — surprise! — her real purpose is the destruction of the human race. This covered a satisfying range of issues, even straying into the realms of theology. But, fatally for a sci-fi thriller, it was neither malevolent nor scary.


 

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