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TV review: Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Cliff Richard, Maggie Hambling: Making Love with the paint, and Out of Her Mind

30 October 2020

BBC/Filmwrights/Menace Productions

The artist Maggi Hambling, now 75, was the subject of Saturday evening’s film on BBC2

The artist Maggi Hambling, now 75, was the subject of Saturday evening’s film on BBC2

AFTER the Queen, Britain’s second most popular Christian was the subject of ITV’s Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Cliff Richard (Sunday). It made a fascinating and constructive contrast to BBC2’s retrospective the previous evening of another National Treasure: Maggi Hambling: Making love with the paint.

Both marked significant birthdays — Hambling 75 and Sir Cliff 80 — the latter still a preternaturally youthful poster boy for clean living, the former bearing as a badge of pride the lines and wrinkles denoting decades of hellraising, cigarettes, and whisky. Both present an absolute dedication to their art, showing no sign of letting up despite their age: but the results of the two profiles are extraordinarily different.

Cliff spoke openly, amiably, warmly — but somehow gave nothing away. Hambling was garrulous, awkward, abrasive — but movingly open, even when what she was being open about remains a mystery to her and to us. Cliff’s ambition seemed to me, for all his friendliness, cold: he admitted once drawing back from marriage when his agents told him that such a step could lose him 25 per cent of his fans. He justified the rupture by deciding that he just did not love the woman deeply enough — expressing no concern about how it affected her.

Hambling’s love life was rich and rackety — but the passion was absolutely worked through in her art for all to see. Richard’s charity work and faith were sensitively acknowledged; yet, when Morgan moved on to probe the effect of the accusations of paedophilia so disgracefully handled by police and media, we didn’t hear if it had led him to agonising prayer or a crisis of belief.

Hambling constantly challenged us, a probing demonstration of what it is to be in thrall to the unknown enigmas of inspiration, giving herself to her leading themes of life and death, politics and environmental crisis. Daily at 6 a.m., she produces a new drawing with her left — i.e. wrong — hand, exploring uncontrollably her dreams and subconscious. Later, these might begin to make sense, or lead to a painting.

Out Of Her Mind (BBC2 Tuesdays) is as completely bonkers as its title promises. Sara Pascoe presents a sitcom in which she plays herself in all the familiar 30-something female quandaries of failed relationships, zero self-worth, impossible family — but here raised to levels of revolutionary surrealism. She wonderfully subverts the medium’s conventions: rather than persuade the viewers that the fiction they are watching is reality, she delights in leading them up the garden path, pulling the rug from under their feet, and daring them to retain a scrap of sympathy for her.

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