A COUNTRY churchyard is, of course, set up for burying; but in
the first magnificent episode of The Great British Year
(BBC1, Wednesdays) the sexton was a red squirrel, hiding the acorns
that would see it through the winter. What I have never seen before
is the extraordinary sleight-of-paw that it employs to fool all the
other watching squirrels.
Sequence after sequence was jaw-dropping in its depiction of our
native flora and fauna. This island's size, its format, and the
Gulf Stream all create, we were told, a unique range of weather and
seasons, and our wildlife has evolved an equally diverse
The detail and colour of the images is wondrous, darting from
landscape aerial shots to microscopic close-ups of bugs and
beetles. The filming induces something of a sensory overload -
almost nothing is shown in real time: it is either slowed down or
in speeded-up time-lapse, showing us processes invisible to the
Most spectacular of all, perhaps, was the night-time
life-and-death drama played out on a disused airfield, when thermal
imaging showed us a mother hare hoping desperately that neither the
fox nor badger would scent her leveret concealed in the grass.
The largest number of professional cameramen ever employed on a
wildlife series was joined by many amateurs to create this
spectacular diary of the changing year. Only the commentary, a fine
example of the expression of the bleeding obvious, adds a jarring
note. Theologically speaking, this is a wonderful depiction of the
sheer plenitude and extravagance of creation. I hope that future
episodes may add just something of a darker hue: we saw everything
make it through the sternest winter - nothing starved to death, and
all prey was dispatched off-screen.
The Wrong Mans (BBC2, Tuesdays) is a marvellously
absurd comedy thriller about a pair of incompetents caught up in a
web of crime and violence. The plot has a fine ability to wrongfoot
not just the central characters, but also the viewers: just when we
think we can see where it is going, the story darts off in another
James Corden's Phil is an especially rich creation, a hopeless
fantasist whose hold on reality hangs by the slenderest thread. The
mayhem in which he is caught up is what he has always longed for:
his reactions, of course, merely land them deeper and deeper in
The clever thing is that it presents a genuine critique of the
serious-thriller genre: this comic version shows up the absurdity
of its posturings. Perhaps farce is, after all, closer to
The title of Pain, Pus and Poison (BBC4, Thursdays),
about the development of pain-killing drugs, sets out clearly the
reality it seeks to explore. Dr Michael Mosley uses himself as a
guinea pig to demonstrate successive attempts to suppress pain.
Most 19th-century tonics derived from opium or cocaine - both of
them addictive and lethal; eventually, nitrous oxide offered
But moralists were unsure; surely to suffer pain was part of the
divine plan, essential to God's good providence for his creation?
Who were we to seek to escape it?