TV review: Elizabeth is Missing, Rod Stewart: Reel stories, and The Joy of Train Sets

20 December 2019

BBC/STV Productions

Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth Is Missing (BBC1, Sunday of last week)

Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth Is Missing (BBC1, Sunday of last week)

ELIZABETH IS MISSING (BBC1, Sunday of last week) was an exceptional TV drama. At its centre, Glenda Jackson presented in Maud a searing portrait of the distress of encroaching dementia — distress for the sufferer and for all who love her.

The plot does not really stand up to scrutiny: the idea that no one, either well-meaning friend or nosy busybody, would explain to Maud’s family, even if Maud herself couldn’t take it in, that Elizabeth had been taken to intensive care after a stroke is preposterous.

And the second strand — the confusion in her mind between this disappearance and that of her beloved sister 60 years previously — was moving and plausible, but not her dogged detective work, which eventually revealed where the corpse was buried.

This sort of fictional structure works on the printed page, but falls to bits when served up on the small screen, which is unforgiving in its depiction of “actual reality” (discuss). But these strictures in no way diminish the towering achievement of Jackson’s performance, and the supporting cast’s. Desperation in trying to hold on to daily life, awareness of how much she was failing to do so, bitter frustration at her failing powers, incoherent anger at herself and those around her, flashes of the intelligent and sensitive woman that she used to be — this was raw, naked, heroic acting of the highest quality.

My wife made me do it. As Head of Voice at a leading conservatoire, she must know whereof she speaks, but it required her enthusiasm for the artist concerned to make me watch (it is not at all my kind of music) Rod Stewart: Reel stories (BBC2, Saturday). Dermot O’Leary sat the singer down in what had been his childhood local cinema and played a series of clips of news footage forming a remarkable overview of his life and art — forming also an unexpected social and cultural history of the past 60 years, from skiffle groups to performance with a full symphony orchestra.

Along the way there were meetings with former chums and fellow artists — and the sheer sense of exuberant fun was infectious. There was no skating over the broken relationships and hell-raising of younger years, but I cannot imagine a more engaging and professionally impressive Jack the Lad.

Sir Roderick’s (as he now is) favourite hobby, shared with many in our line of business, was well served in The Joy of Train Sets: The model railway story (BBC4, Thursday of last week). Not just drooling over footage of early Bassett-Lowke engineering masterpieces, evocative pre-war Hornby tinplate, or stupendously detailed layouts by the finest modellers, this offered analysis and rationale.

Is it essentially nostalgia, seeking to recreate childhood memories? Or the desire to create a perfect miniature world in contrast to the ghastly full-size one? Or an obsessive striving for absolute accuracy, grime and all?

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