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TV review: Harry: The interview, Stonehouse, and His Dark Materials

13 January 2023


In Harry: The interview (ITV1, Sunday), the Duke of Sussex articulated his case clearly and urgently

In Harry: The interview (ITV1, Sunday), the Duke of Sussex articulated his case clearly and urgently

IT WAS with reluctance that I watched Harry: The interview (ITV, Sunday). I was, as expected, greatly saddened — but far more impressed than I expected to be. He spoke notably well, making careful distinctions, and with far less of the Californian psychobabble than he is frequently accused of regurgitating.

In response to Tom Bradby’s gently probing questions, he refrained from sensationalising, did not milk emotional sympathy, and articulated clearly and urgently. The overarching claim must surely be right, and demands radical action that, with three court cases, he is trying, with a few allies, to undertake: that the British tabloid press must be stopped from fighting its circulation wars by switching from fawning adulation to paranoid invective, utterly careless of the personal cost to the unfortunate celebrities in their sights.

In Harry and Meghan’s particular case it is, as he sees it, far worse than that: out of fear of even worse publicity, the various royal households exacerbate this frenzy by secretly feeding journalists snippets of gossip and worse. The problem is surely that this interview, despite the intentions of honesty and openness which I am happy to accord it, merely adds to this sordid process. It provides a feast of material that will be endlessly picked over and sensationalised, pushing further and further out of sight the longed-for catharsis of reconciliation.

Stonehouse (ITV1, Monday to Wednesday of last week) depicted a catastrophic real-life fall from grace which required no assistance from the media, although they greatly enjoyed amplifying the story as each incredible chapter unrolled.

The hero had achieved a remarkable rise through the ranks of the Labour Party, achieving ministerial rank, and wealth that was bankrolling a lavish lifestyle. By 1974, the charade had unravelled; unable to face the consequences, he travelled to Miami, left his clothes on the beach, and faked death by drowning. He then settled in Australia under one of several false identities that he had created. Eventually, his travels led to the Old Bailey, and a seven-year prison sentence. This should be more than enough to furnish three hours of TV drama: a lubricious scandal (sex was a key element) ancient enough to quieten our moral anxieties about enjoying the spectacle.

And yet it really didn’t work. Stonehouse must have had ability and charisma to rise as he did, but all we saw was buffoonish ambition, conceit, and vanity — oh, and utter unconcern for all those whose lives he wrecked.

The final series of His Dark Materials (BBC1 Sundays and iPlayer) draws to its climax, as Lyra and Will, no longer children, wrestle with death itself, their heroic stature growing and growing. Unfortunately, Pullman’s remarkable creative imagination, magnificently realised in this stark and beautiful dramatisation, is vitiated by his hatred of religion in all its forms — but not by Dr Mary Malone’s use of I Ching and divination sticks: methods that I understand to be highly valued by Oxford physicists.

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