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TV review: Charlotte Church: My family and me, Giri/Haji, and Spiral

25 October 2019

BBC/Sister Pictures



IT ALL started with “Pie Jesu”; so you could say that, as always, the Church is to blame. Charlotte Church: My family and me (Channel 4, Thursday of last week) was an exercise in reconciliation: an attempt to repair the damaged relationship between Charlotte, her mother, and her stepfather.

The story mimics a Greek tragedy: her remarkable voice and delightful personality brought extreme fame and wealth from the age of 11; but this was more curse than blessing — a sign not of Olympian benison, but spite.

She delighted with her bubbly ordinariness, but how could any life remotely normal be lived in such a frenzy of attention from the real demons of the piece, the popular media, who destroy all those they fawn over? At 16, she walked out of her family, and years of bitter estrangement followed: the programme recorded a rather extreme way of creating new honesty and openness between them. Her mother relishes home comforts above all; so, Charlotte’s choice was provocatively shock treatment: four days glamping in the middle of Dartmoor with an open-air shower and no hot water.

The context is stark: her mother now lives with bipolar mental illness, and her stepfather has a rare terminal illness, and has perhaps only months left to live. We quickly realised how identical in temperament are mother and daughter — fiery, big-hearted, emotional — and so how unlikely that a placid, temperate relationship would ever have emerged, let alone under the extreme pressure of this particular life.

The film’s artificial construct paid off, however: each was willing to reveal brokenness and regret; each promised a new start based on honesty and mutual love.

Violent crime is no laughing matter, and our insatiable appetite for being entertained by TV criminal dramas is disturbing to stern moralists such as me. Yet, some examples of this genre are so outstandingly original, and have found such new ways to depict this well-worn and sordid theme as to disarm criticism. I judge BBC2’s new series Giri/Haji (Thursday of last week) absolutely to fulfil this.

All the standard tropes are there — police hero with disturbed home life and a big secret to hide; ruthless gangs for whom human life counts as nothing; the whiff of police corruption — but here transported to unfamiliar heights. A brilliant but flawed Tokyo detective is sent undercover to London to investigate a murder that threatens to bring all-out gang warfare to the Japanese capital — but that might have been committed by his own criminal brother, thought to be dead. It is sparklingly new, not just in its exotic setting, but in the tragi-comedic relationships and quirky detail.

Meanwhile, Spiral (BBC4, Saturdays) returns with a seventh series, by no means played out, still utterly compelling drama, revealing the stark and brutal reality beneath the beauty and culture of Paris. Characters, dialogue, scenarios — all are immediate, rich, and multi-layered.

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