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TV review: The Queen, A Ghost Story for Christmas: The mezzotint, The Girl Before, and We Wish You a Mandy Christmas

31 December 2021


The Queen makes her Christmas Day broadcast from the White Drawing Room in Windsor Castle (BBC 1 and ITV)

The Queen makes her Christmas Day broadcast from the White Drawing Room in Windsor Castle (BBC 1 and ITV)

THE Christmas schedules’ most counter-cultural offering was The Queen (Christmas Day, BBC1 and ITV — although this year an ITN production). Her Majesty showed us how bereavement and loss are particularly acute at this season of fellowship, when we long to surround ourselves with our dearest. Yet she expressed this rawest of emotions — clearly, for her, as genuine and hard to bear as anyone else’s grief — via the almost forgotten virtue of Christian stoicism, and demonstrated how emotion need be neither emotive nor over-emotional.

Duty and faith; holding on to the positives of memory; delighting in present goodness; hope and confidence in the future — she offered us all a model in how to live. A brilliantly crafted exposition of “passing on”, from the legacy of the dear departed to the baton that is crossing the world in preparation for next year’s Commonwealth Games, found space for lighter moments, notably a dig at clergy who force congregations to sing beloved carols to unfamiliar tunes.

Elsewhere, TV celebrated the birth of our Saviour by seeking to scare us to bits. A Ghost Story for Christmas: The mezzotint (BBC2, Christmas Eve) gave wide coverage to the work of the Anglican priest and apocryphal scholar M. R. James. The growing dread occasioned by a nondescript engraving that, on each successive viewing, reveals, scene by scene, a ghastly crime was brilliantly conveyed; but Mark Gatiss’s concluding apparatus of exposition was unnecessarily contrived.

The Girl Before (BBC1, 19-22 December) featured a house doubly haunted: first, by the two women who had met brutal deaths there, and, second, by the building’s architect, who, a disgracefully slander on that noble profession, is pathologically controlling and domineering.

He has created the perfect house, and anyone who dares aspire to live in it must sign a draconian list of rules and regulations. It is a “smart” house: every variable is recorded and monitored, and the settings are updated; so your already perfect environment just gets better and better — unless, that is, you break the spell by buying a book or hanging a picture, or if you object to being videoed in the shower.

As the traumatic events built up and the story unfolded, the greater the implausibility grew, and the denouement was disappointingly weak. It did deliver a public-service benefit: always avoid houses that eschew staircase banisters.

Despite constant obscenity, Diane Morgan’s We Wish You a Mandy Christmas (BBC2, 20 December) was an effective palate-cleanser, including rather good techno-related gags: here, nothing electronic is remotely smart. The Über-slattern Mandy hates Christmas, preferring to watch Die Hard alone and slugging Tia Maria from the bottle. Her new video doorbell summons the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Their visions — especially her likely funeral — transform her into a jitterbugging good neighbour.

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