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TV review: Ultimate Wedding Planner, This Cultural Life, and A Spy Among Friends

18 August 2023

BBCS Production

Lewis and Sammy in Ultimate Wedding Planner (BBC2, Tuesdays)

Lewis and Sammy in Ultimate Wedding Planner (BBC2, Tuesdays)

COULD Ultimate Wedding Planner (BBC2, Tuesdays) reverse the declining number of religious wedding ceremonies? Lewis and Sammy, who live in Manchester, are getting married within months of the bride’s mother having died from sepsis. Sammy tells how she had her mother’s blessing for her choice of groom, and wedding venue: an airport hangar containing Concorde, reflecting the couple’s shared love of plane-spotting.

Sammy wants the hangar to be “like Concorde lost in a forest”. To achieve this, eight rookie wedding planners have three days, £10,000, and guidance from Raj Somaiya (“wedding planner to the stars”), plus judgement from Fred Sirieix and Sara Davies. Mr Somaiya reduces old, new, borrowed, and blue wisdom to old, as he repeats a metaphor for missing a train. The train leaves the platform, then the contestants are chasing from station to station, and, finally, they miss the train and “everything was falling like dominoes.”

While Mr Somaiya faltered on the jump from Real Housewives of Cheshire and My Big Fat Asian Wedding to on-screen expert, two of the contestants know what factual entertainment requires: face time. Yasmin, a florist, leaps in to be team leader, learning from The Apprentice that this job guarantees camera-crew access. Tash, a prop maker, countermoves by becoming Yasmin’s antagonist: “You are never too important to be kind.”

In an elimination show, some will land on the rough side of the edit. Charlene, a civil servant, appears in the opening sequence only, but lives to plan another day. Jack, a DJ, is not so lucky. Mr Sirieix and Ms Davies criticise his lacklustre advocacy for rail-and-drape room dividers, which result in wonky DIY ceremony screens. But, rather than fight his underdraped corner, Jack makes a worm-turning speech about love, and how he would rather be at home with his family than continue. No credit is given for the chair with the sign “Reserved for Jenny Willard, mother of the bride, watching from heaven.” But it is a loud cry that great rites of passage need more than table-scaping and spreadsheets.

The dramatist Sally Wainwright is visibly grieving her mother when John Wilson interviews her gently on This Cultural Life (BBC4, Wednesday of last week) about the creation of Happy Valley (Television Review, 27 January) and her long television career. As a child in Huddersfield, she adored television series such as Rock Follies and Juliet Bravo, and wanted to write dramas that would bring the same pleasure to new viewers. We know that Ms Wainwright succeeded admirably, writing for The Archers from the age of 24; but This Cultural Life never makes quite clear how.

A Spy Among Friends (ITV, Sundays) invents Lily Thomas, a fictional, female Geordie spy, played by the feather-spitting Anna Maxwell Martin, to explain how Kim Philby and the Cambridge spy ring, including the vicar’s son, Anthony Blunt, evaded discovery. Confronting Damian Lewis’s urbane Nicholas Elliot, Thomas tells Philby’s friend and old-chap tribune that the traitor lied and used him for 25 years: “from the first moment he set eyes on you. When are you going to accept that and be honest with yourself?”

Gillean Craig is away.

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