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TV review: Attenborough’s Life in Colour, The Story of Welsh Art, and Man in Room 301

19 March 2021

BBC/Humble BeeFilms/SeaLight Pictures

A poison dart frog in Panama, in Attenborough’s Life in Colour (BBC1, 28 February and 7 March)

A poison dart frog in Panama, in Attenborough’s Life in Colour (BBC1, 28 February and 7 March)

“HE GAVE us eyes to see them” — well, up to a point. One key aspect of Attenborough’s Life in Colour (BBC1, 28 February and 7 March) was the limitations of human vision. Compared with our cousins in some branches of creation, we perceive a relatively limited part of the colour spectrum.

The marvels of modern photography, revealing infra-red and ultra-violet sections, enabled us to see what other animals can see and we cannot, helping to scotch the theological nonsense that the diverse beauties of nature were thought up by a benign deity simply to delight human eyes.

Attenborough showed us the range of ways in which animals employ colour: to camouflage,to confuse, to indicate gender and fertility, to show that they are poisonous, and to fool prey into thinking that they are not. So, the next time the vicar wears his most brilliant cope, ponder the question: is he trying to hide in plain sight, or to increase his chance of a good dinner, or simply looking for a mate?

To learn how we perceive one corner of the world, watch The Story of Welsh Art (BBC4, Monday of last week). It is a commonplace of art history that landscape came late on the list of painters’ subjects: Huw Stephens made a strong case for celebrating the Welshman Richard Wilson as the first to show not just idealised sylvan settings for mythological scenes, but accurate views of his native mountains and torrents hitherto considered wild, horrid, and vulgar.

But perhaps the first of the three programmes, on St David’s Day, was even better, starting with 5000-year-old rock art, then the internationally spectacular 2000 BC Mold Gold Cape, then the glories of the 450-plus Christian crosses, expressions of powerful, elemental faith. Again and again, Stephens — who, instead of being an established expert, seemed to be exploring his subject almost for the first time with infectious enthusiasm — convinced us that the principality was no mere footnote to European art, but a crucible of innovation and influence.

The Finnish crime thriller Man in Room 301 (BBC4, 27 February, 6 and 13 March) performs a social function. The Kurtti family are holidaying in Greece because the overbearing, heartily disliked paterfamilias insists on it. A terrible cloud overshadows them: 12 years ago, back home, a feral youth killed the two-year-old grandson. But, actually, he hadn’t fired the shot: it was the toddler’s own alcoholic father. The grandfather persuaded him to blame the teenager.

There is more: the two-year-old was the fruit of secret adultery, the son of the supposed father’s brother. Now, the youth whose life they destroyed is sending text messages threatening vengeance.

Corrosive secrets, festering guilt, unacknowledgeable heartache, brooding fear — next time your family holiday starts going badly, just remember that, on the spectrum set by this one, it doesn’t even register.

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