NEVER begin with an apology: it is the first rule of all
effective communication. I am sorry to say that in my rant last
week about the BBC's failure properly to mark Holy Week with
appropriate broadcasts, I overlooked The Great North
Passion (BBC1, Good Friday), which seems to have been a very
imaginative attempt to engage diverse communities and artists
throughout Tyneside with Jesus's suffering and death. I say "seems"
because, by the time I had access to a TV, its iPlayer window had
expired; so I cannot comment retrospectively.
If you want to personify pure evil, you cannot do better than
bring on the priest. This is one of the lessons taught by
Jamaica Inn (BBC1, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last
week). I cannot judge how accurate this version was to Daphne du
Maurier's novel, but, until the final half hour or so, it made
highly effective TV.
This melodrama teetered on the edge of parody as orphan Mary
came to terms with the full horror of life in the eponymous
hostelry, uniquely forbidding and filthy. But the acting,
direction, and camerawork soon drew us into ever worse revelations
Smuggling was bad enough; but this was trumped by the ghastly
trade of wrecking, with a grim scene of the survivors of a ship
lured to its destruction being drowned by those who cared only for
plunder. Finally, we realised that all this was orchestrated by the
truly diabolical figure of the local incumbent, secretly attempting
to recover the delights of the pagan world with human sacrifice on
the local tor. But the pervading moral degeneration, shot through
with passion, and even tenderness, was entirely convincing.
Another kind of fall was brilliantly portrayed in Tommy
Cooper: Not like that, like this (ITV, Monday of last week).
David Threlfall was entirely believable as the great comedian,
funny in his very being: he simply had to shamble on stage for
people to start laughing. The scenario was familiar enough: a clown
plagued by personal demons and a chaotic personal life; greatly
loved but almost unlovable in his meanness and selfishness, fuelled
by alcohol; entirely ungenerous to his colleagues; and unfaithful
to his wife.
But the performances and recreation of 1970s showbiz life were
entirely convincing, making us see clearly the ethical dilemma:
does the ability to bring delight to others justify personal moral
failure? To what extent must the shortcomings of a great artist be
accepted and covered up by those closest to him, so that his
God-given talent can continue to flourish? (I suppose that is
exactly the same problem that a number of priest's families deal
with on a daily basis.)
A final descent into hell wound up BBC4's live relay from Covent
Garden of Mozart's Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera House
(Sunday). These TV broadcasts show something we do not get in the
opera house: the close-ups give a much clearer impression of the
sheer commitment of the singers, the total physical involvement
required to inhabit a great role, and the courage needed to find in
yourself, and be willing to express to an audience, the emotions
(whether noble or despicable) that the part requires.