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TV review: I Am Ruth, EastEnders, Harry and Meghan, The Earthshot Prize 2022, and A Royal Grand Design

16 December 2022

Channel 4

Kate Winslet and her daughter, Mia Threapleton, as Clare and Freya in I Am Ruth (C4, Thursday of last week)

Kate Winslet and her daughter, Mia Threapleton, as Clare and Freya in I Am Ruth (C4, Thursday of last week)

WHAT could be more admirable than the theme of I Am Ruth (C4, Thursday of last week)? Or the Hollywood status of its performers: Kate Winslet and her real-life daughter, Mia Threapleton, as Clare and Freya? It portrayed the all-too-common descent into a familial abyss as a teenage child transformed from success and popularity to withdrawn non-communication, refusing to speak to her single mother except in accusations and invective.

Is the villain of the piece social media: the smartphone that Freya uses all through the night, posting sexual self-images, and receiving responses that destroy any remaining shreds of self-esteem? Ms Winslet gave a performance stripped bare of superstar ego, her character unable to say or do anything to restore the relationship that she longs for, and every word and action deepening the gulf between her and her daughter. Eventually, Freya starts to cut herself, forcing a crisis that might just point to some resolution.

The feature-length drama went on an unexpected journey, from initial irritation with a self-indulgent and self-obsessed child to greater and greater despair, as the mother — whom we are supposed to acknowledge as high-achieving and intelligent — put every foot wrong. By the end, I felt that that Ruth’s psychological predicament was deeper than her daughter’s.

Unfortunately, despite all the sympathy that we want to offer this family, deeper and deeper cracks appear in the storyline. Ruth seems to be extraordinarily unaware of quite basic aspects of contemporary life. Her dismissal of the school’s offer of counselling and her hysteria at discovering Freya’s (thank God, minor) self-harm did not ring true.

By a weird coincidence, there is a parallel narrative of child despair and cutting in that dog’s dinner known as EastEnders (BBC1, Mondays-Thursdays). For all its overblown and ludicrous dramatics, we may well think that the soap opera’s portrayal of Jack and Denise’s response to Amy’s far more serious self-harm is truer to real life, and offers more support to families in the same predicament.

Were the United Nations to offer an award to the family that has provided the greatest worldwide TV entertainment, it would be won hands down by the House of Windsor. I draw a veil over Harry and Meghan’s Apologia Pro Vitae Suae (Netflix), whose first three episodes are likely to reduce further their UK support.

In contrast, the Prince of Wales’s The Earthshot Prize 2022 (BBC1, 4 December), despite the brash glitz and glitter of its US production, featured an array of marvellous innovations seeking to restore and enhance the world’s ecology. And, in A Royal Grand Design (ITV1, 30 November), the King himself revealed his triumphant saving of Dumfries House, Ayrshire, and planned economic regeneration of its depressed surrounding area.

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