TWO contrasting presentations of abusive home life illuminated our screens last week. Cousin Fanny, the slightly detached narrator of BBC1’s new Sunday-evening drama series The Pursuit of Love, derived from Nancy Mitford’s 1945 semi-autobiographical novel, volunteered the fact that Uncle Matthew’s domineering control, blind rages, and violent punishments would, if he were working-class, have landed him in prison. Here, because they are all toffs, it’s accepted as extreme but essentially bracing and character-forming eccentricity.
The production is at heart self-indulgent: the aristocrats and their grand mansions are depicted as, even at their most boringly hidebound, far more brilliant, glossy, and unshabby than the between-the-wars reality. The careful, if exaggerated, period detail, constructed with lavish attention, is shattered every so often by an eruption into knowing, anachronistic, pop-music-choregraphed set-pieces.
This is a tiresome modish convention, but my criticism teeters on the edge of breaking a butterfly on the wheel, as this is essentially entertainment, not high art. The piece revolves around beautiful Linda, a seething vessel of desires, abrupt emotions, and dreams, obsessed with romantic love, and escape. The relationship between her and realistic, serious Fanny exaggeratedly acts out a genuine and troubling human dilemma: do we follow our hearts or our heads? It’s a visually delicious, if lightweight, exploration of this eternal conundrum.
There is nothing lightweight about Ian Wright: Home truths (BBC1, Thursday of last week). The football-star-turned-TV-personality has decided that the time has finally come for him to confront the reality of the violence and abuse that he suffered as a child from his stepfather and his mother. He hopes that his disclosure will free others to speak out, and encourage the agencies that support victims and work to sever the vicious cycle of the abuse of children who then grow up to be abusive parents.
The statistics are shocking and shameful: in most of the 1.6 million cases of domestic abuse of women, a child is present. The deep damage that Ian Wright suffered, the constant fear, the shameful impotence, and the hatred that he developed laid down a stratum of anger that affected even his professional success; every so often it erupted. He considered it normal for children to be threatened and hit; growing up with acceptance and love was an impossible dream.
We follow his journey of exploration, witnessing the tears as therapists assure him that he was not to blame for the violence (children always assume that it must be their fault); and — as he sees the work of counsellors and social projects, and hears from those who have found ways to turn around the abuse that they meted out — his courage in learning to understand and forgive.
Not such entertaining TV, perhaps, but infinitely more challenging and important.