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A happy man

03 October 2014


MARVELLOUS (BBC2, Thursday of last week) really was just that. A biopic of a living legend, Neil Baldwin - known to all in Stoke on Trent and everywhere else as Nello - it even trespassed on that most unfashionable ground: making the Church of England appear positive and sympathetic.

Nello lives with learning difficulties, but seems to have grasped the crucial elements of life far better than most people who have a degree. Because he does not recognise the problems that paralyse most of us, they seem to melt away. His friends include MPs and bishops; and just about everybody, it seems, responds to his positive view: "I always wanted to be happy; so I decided to be." His faith, prayers, and trust in the Bible were unaffected.

Toby Jones gave a moving performance as Nello, which was, at key moments in the film, given unusual perspective by the arrival of the real Neil Baldwin, who sat down with the actor to discuss with him the events that had just been dramatised.

It was not all saccharine: his mother's illness and death added a necessary perspective of realities for which sublime cheerfulness may give a means of coping, but do not wish away. This portrayal was a meditation on a simplicity that may even be Christlike. By being himself, it seems Nello enables others to find their true inner generosity, demonstrated by the celebrities who took part in the film, eager to celebrate their friendship with a remarkable man.

The true wellsprings of happiness were also explored in The Himalayan Boy and the TV Set (BBC4, Monday of last week). This documentary chronicled the coming of electricity, and therefore television, to a remote cluster of houses in Bhutan, through the eyes of eight-year-old Peyangki. His widowed mother has decided that he must become a monk; so he is placed in the local monastery - an extraordinarily casual affair, giving him plenty of time to skip down the mountain to see his mother.

He is not happy, and his teacher fears that he will join the steady stream of other monks who have left for the town. Payangki's uncle takes him to the city for the winter, their main purpose being to sell a yak to buy a TV set, which they bring back in triumph. The extended family sits round it, transfixed by this marvel of communication. Now, at last, they are connected to the outside world.

This beautiful film set a powerful contrast between the traditional life and contemporary culture, and challenged us to consider how we sort out that balance.

In The Driver (BBC1, Tuesday of last week), David Morrissey directs and stars as the taxi driver so beaten down by the boredom of his life that he falls in with his ex-con old schoolmate's criminal escapade. The plot and scenarios are clichés of the genre, but this has a powerful ring of truth: the small steps into a truly horrific world, the accommodations with what you know to be wrong building inexorably into a trap from which it is impossible to get free.

This had a powerful moral centre, demonstrating the truth that you only realise what you value most at the moment when you have probably thrown it away for ever.

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