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TV review: Rhythms of India, The Virtues, Years and Years, and Gentleman Jack

31 May 2019

BBC Studios/Pete Stanton

Soumik Datta (right) with the singer Tulsi Kumar, in Rhythms of India (BBC 4 Tuesdays)

Soumik Datta (right) with the singer Tulsi Kumar, in Rhythms of India (BBC 4 Tuesdays)

I STRONGLY recommend to all who are interested in music and religion BBC4’s new three-part Rhythms of India (Tuesdays). The British-Asian sarod player Soumik Datta presents what is, of necessity, a mere scratching of the surface of these most complex and subtle arts.

Up and down the whole of India he is welcomed and accepted, playing alongside the performers, giving us a glimpse of what these ancient traditions mean to those who, daily, live them. He also gives proper weight to the context and the meaning: this is religious work, with profound social and cultural significance.

We learned the background: how the incoming Muslim Mughal dynasties blended the existing ancient music with what they brought from Persia to create a court recital music of unrivalled sophistication, while, in the south, the Hindu tradition remains firmly ritual, temple-based, more anchored in popular life.

Music as presented by Datta reveals India today, riven with tensions between those seeking to preserve the handed-down tradition, and those who push the boundaries, blending ancient with contemporary. Should music-making preserve the strict distinctions of caste and gender, or be a catalyst for change and renewal? You will find surprising and illuminating parallels with the concerns of our own church music.

In a season chock-full of first-rate TV drama, The Virtues (Channel 4, Wednesdays) offers the most intense experience yet — not least because its subject matter is so unspectacular. Joe, a recovering alcoholic, says fare­well to his son, who is being taken to Australia by his mother to start a new life without him. He leaves Liverpool and returns to the sister in Ireland from whom he was separated as a child. Can he stay sober? Can he ever make lasting relationships? Stephen Graham’s performance is astonishing: despite his faults, we feel sympathy and empathy.

Years And Years (BBC1, Tuesdays) is Russell T. Davies’s vision of the near future through the lens of an ordinary British family. It started as if it were today, and, with each episode, extrapolates further into the future. He imagines the ratcheting-up of nationalism, right-wing extremism, environmental collapse, and economic failure.

The story is compelling, but I find the range of types and characters — the gay couple, the wheelchair-bound daughter, the environmental campaigner, the high-achieving black businesswoman, the acerbic-but-wise grandmother — stereotypical.

Gentleman Jack (BBC1, Sundays) is a terrific 1830s costume romp “inspired by” (note their term) the remarkable coded diaries of Anne Lister. Suranne Jones plays, wonderfully, the Yorkshire landowner who is outraging proprieties by, first, promoting with hard-headed determination the industrial revolution on her estate, and, second, seducing the pretty neighbourhood heiress. It’s glorious: a triumph of verve and style.

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