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TV review: BBC News, Dispatches: Russell Brand: In plain sight, Picasso: The beauty and the beast, and Black Snow

29 September 2023


The King and President Macron attend a state dinner in the Hall of Mirrors at the Chateau de Versailles, last week. The King’s visit to France was relegated to the final few minutes of BBC News’s 10 p.m. bulletin

The King and President Macron attend a state dinner in the Hall of Mirrors at the Chateau de Versailles, last week. The King’s visit to France was rel...

VIVE le Roi! I would have thought that, for this cry to ring out along the Champs Élysées as Paris welcomed the King, or the standing ovation accorded him by the Senate, or the extraordinary warmth displayed by President Macron and His Majesty at the state banquet in Versailles — that all these, against the bitter backdrop of UK politicians’ deepening paralysis in relation to Europe, were significant news stories.

Were they not remarkable examples of what everyone agreed, reflecting just a year ago on the significance of the late Queen’s reign, was the British monarch’s soft influence for good, out of all proportion to our nation’s diminishing hard power, in the world’s affairs?

BBC News, at 10 p.m., its flagship bulletin, relegated these items to the final minutes, devoting the first half of the programme instead to extensive coverage of the accusations against Russell Brand (Press, 22 September). Coercion of the powerless, treated merely as fodder to satisfy the sexual appetites of powerful and practically unassailable public figures in any walk of life, when it is proved to have taken place, must be called out and dealt with, and attitudes and systems must be changed so that it cannot happen again.

There was, though, the suggestion that the BBC was playing catch-up to Channel 4’s exposé Dispatches: Russell Brand: In plain sight (16 September), and seeking to back-pedal from its promotion of the entertainer. There’s a nasty whiff of hypocrisy here: simultaneously expressing abhorrence at such abuse while milking the sensation for all that it’s worth. The Channel 4 programme was appalling on several levels: not just for the specific allegations, but, for me almost as troubling, the recordings of the audience’s laughter and standing-ovation adulation at Brand’s live shows as he described explicitly his sexual techniques.

If you can promote anything, however offensive, as long as you make it into a joke, then perhaps our public morals have sunk to such depths that we should just slink off the international stage.

The three-part Picasso: The beauty and the beast (BBC2, Thursday of last week) marked the 50th anniversary of his death with a far fuller picture of his failings as well as his genius. But, even here, critics and experts too easily justified his serial abuse of women — jealous, and rejecting them the moment his interest transferred to a younger “muse” — as the manners of the period.

The Australian crime drama Black Snow (BBC4, Saturday), despite clichéd scenarios, such as a dogged but damaged cold-case investigator, a compromised local cop, and a historically oppressed community (South Sea islanders kidnapped to work in Queensland sugar plantations), starts promisingly. The twists and turns feel real and compelling, including even its portrayal of church and religion.

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