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TV review: Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights, Gauguin: A dangerous life, and Giri/Haji

13 December 2019

channel 5

Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights (Channel 5, Saturday) produced an unexpected moral effect

Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights (Channel 5, Saturday) produced an unexpected moral effect

I WAS shocked, visiting our former church, to discover that my stern in­­­sistence that, Advent being a peni­t­ential season, the most lavish dec­ora­­­­­­­­­­­tion per­­­­­­­­­­missible in church is bare evergreens, has been over­thrown by the new management; so the tree already glitters with baubles.

At least there was no sign yet of fairy lights; so I hope that they still keep in reserve that moment of il­­lumination of the time hallowed by tradi­­­­tion and (surely somewhere) scripture: the first note of “Once in royal David’s city” from King’s College, Cambridge.

No such discipline inhibits the secular subjects of Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights (Channel 5, Satur­day). This was an appall­­­­ing pro­­­­­­­­­­­gramme: the topp­­­­­ing and tailing of seg­­­­­­ments was apparently carried out by a blunt breadknife, and Noddy Holder’s rasping, jokey com­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­mentary con­­­­­­trarily pro­­­­­­­­­­­­d­­­uced an un­­­­­­­­­­ex­­­­­­­­­­pected moral effect. I had tuned in to scoff, but the more insis­­­­­­­­­­­­tently his relent­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­less allitera­­­­­­­­­tions made pat­­­­­­­ron­­­­­­­ising fun, the more I began to admire the bizarre achieve­­­­­­­­­­ments on display.

Four homes in England were por­trayed: ord­­­­­­­­­inary houses trans­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­formed, their walls, roofs, and gardens hid­den behind illumi­­­­­­­­­nated tableaux, thou­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­sands upon thousands of fairly lights cele­­­­­­­­brat­­­­­­­ing the incar­nation of our Sav­­­­­­­iour with reindeer, giant robins, huge snowmen, sleighs — even the occa­s­­­­ional nat­­­­­­ivity scene.

This is obsess­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ion: one home is now almost un­­­­­­­­inhabitable, choked with storage boxes. We saw teams of father and son, a pair of brothers, and a patriarch who, at 85, is forbid­den to climb the ladders, and directs family and neighbours. Unexpected relation­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ships blossom, com­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­munities knit to­­­­­­­­­gether in celebration, and thou­­­­­sands of pounds are raised for charities. This is un­­­­self­­­­con­­­­­scious folk art on the grandest scale, bringing light to the mid­­­­­­winter dark­­­­ness.

Always seek­­­­­ing a diff­­­­­erent light — first Brittany, then Provence, finally Tahiti — describes the trajectory of Gauguin: A dangerous life (BBC4, Sunday of last week). When be­­­­­­fore have arts experts, while ad­­­­­mir­­­­­ing the paint­­­­­­­ings, so dis­­­­­­­­­­­approved of the artist? Gauguin pro­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­claimed a life­time’s search for prim­­­­­itive purity, but was competitive and messianic, de­­vel­op­­­­­­­­­­­ing a wild and barbaric per­sona in the South Seas, and trading on his colonial super­­­­iority, espec­­­­ially in sexual relation­­­­ships with young nat­­­­­ive women. This sad fin­­­­­­­­ale quest­­­­­­­ions the sin­cerity of the depic­­­­­­tions of Breton peasants at prayer. Was it all a pose?

I try not to revert to programmes already reviewed, but Giri/Haji (BBC2, final episode, Thursday of last week) was so extra­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ordinary as to de­­­­­mand men­­­­­­­­­­­­­tion. This Anglo-Japanese crime thriller amal­­­­­gamated div­­­­­erse genres: ultravio­l­ence, familial tenderness, humour, tragedy, psy­cho­­­logical depth, and anime cartoon — all melded into a new kind of TV. The climax of the drama was ex­­pressed, astonishingly, by a slow-motion ballet. Fantastic!

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