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TV review: Japan With Sue Perkins, Churchill and the Movie Mogul, and The Cameron Years

04 October 2019

BBC/Folk Films/Kosuke Arakawa

Sue Perkins (centre) with geisha in Kyoto, in Japan With Sue Perkins (BBC1, Wednesday of last week)

Sue Perkins (centre) with geisha in Kyoto, in Japan With Sue Perkins (BBC1, Wednesday of last week)

IT IS a long and arduous training. Every action and attitude must be learned exactly, the gorgeous silk vesture put on to precise formula. But the number of apprentices is now greatly diminished, a remnant valiantly keeping alive the flame of ancient tradition greatly at variance with today’s attitudes.

We were watching the mysterious preparation for the life of a geisha in the second part of Japan With Sue Perkins (BBC1, Wednesday of last week). Perkins, as is standard in such documentaries, does not merely observe: she, too, was dolled up in all the finery, and joined the other trainees as they entertained two rather bemused businessmen.

This was a sympathetic attempt to, as she put it, search for the soul of Japan, exploring the contrasts between the formality of daily life and such curious phenomena as maid cafés, where the waitresses dress like little girls and encourage you to play children’s games.

On a Sunday morning, instead of going to church, you can enrol in government-sponsored speed-dating; and the growing isolation and loneliness of the population has spawned rent-a-family agencies, which will gladly supply you with, for example, a pretend spouse for the day to cheer up your elderly parents.

This remarkable and solemn people, she concluded, require a rigid formal framework to allow them to be informal.

The soul of Britain was made corporeal — if only on celluloid — thanks to the achievement of Churchill and the Movie Mogul (BBC4, Wednesday of last week). Alexander Korda was the film-maker in whom the future Prime Minister recognised the ability to project his vision of British greatness and the threat of Hitler’s fascism. This unlikely partnership between a Hungarian Jewish refugee and an English aristocratic writer-politician resulted in unashamed and brilliant propaganda, creating subliminal support for Churchill’s conviction that the only way forward was to relive the glories of Queen Elizabeth and Horatio Nelson in a bitter fight against foreign tyranny.

This scenario has been only too thoroughly assimilated into the souls of far too many of our compatriots, the subject of The Cameron Years (BBC1, Thursday of last week) might ruefully conclude. This two-part illustrated interview was broadcast to coincide with the publication of the former PM’s memoirs, and to ride the bandwagon of the Brexit climax.

Our Dave made desperate pleas that his premiership might be re­­mem­bered not for igniting this pow­der keg, nor for the suf­ferings caused by economic aus­terity, but for his compassionate, one-nation Toryism — achieving, in particular, a change in the law on same-sex marriage. Ann Widde­combe spoke up for the Conserva­tives who opposed this new direc­tion, sewing the seeds of in­­ternal opposition now flowering with such riotous abandon.

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