A bit of light and shade this week as we delve into more TV goodness
We’re starting this time with a programme from Channel 4 that’s caused quite a lot of controversy and I’m not talking about the incident involving a repeat of Come Dine With Me which ended up with a man involved in an assault being recognised and convicted. Instead it is the docudrama The Taking of Prince Harry which, as the title suggests, looks at what would happen if Prince Harry returned to Afghanistan, crashed and was kidnapped by Afghan hostiles. This isn’t just some thrown-together nonsense either in fact it’s been constructed through talks with higher-ups in MI6, the CIA, the FBI and other top law enforcement agencies who apparently haven’t got any crimes to solve at the moment and have got time to work on a T.V. show. Together with the programme makers they’ve created this pseudo-drama which has what would happen day-by-day if Harry’s kidnapping did actually occur and the drama is interspersed with important looking talking heads making sure that all this drama isn’t just fantasy and has some basis in fact. The drama sees Harry and another pilot, who is quickly rescued, crashing and being taken by a couple of Afghan nobodies before being carted off to a cosier Taliban residence to start the negotiations for money. When the bland prime minister character refuses to deal with the terrorists Harry is sold to Pakistani Taliban members and is recognised by their British translator. He in turn alerts the press and soon there is a national newspaper story and faux T.V. reporters start asking people on the street if they reckon Harry should be saved or not. The drama ends when the place where Harry is being held starts to be bombed he runs off and is eventually met with Pakistani officials who hand him over to the Brits and he is returned safely to the Royal Family. The Taking of Prince Harry has obviously drawn comparisons with Channel 4′s previous what-if docudramas Death of a President and last year’s The Execution of Gary Glitter. Death of a President was very well put together and to the point while the Gary Glitter story had no factual merit and was quite sick. Thankfully the Prince Harry production veers much towards the former thanks mainly to the documentary segments which did feature some fascinating points about what happens during a Taliban kidnapping. The most thought-provoking moments came from some of the talking heads who have been captured and have lived to tell the tale such as a Guardian reporter and a Norwegian film-maker. While I was watching I did wonder if a straight documentary about Taliban hostage-taking would’ve been better and would’ve avoided the controversy that surrounded the programme. That’s not to say the actual drama wasn’t great and I suppose the ante was upped by the captor being a member of the Royal family and if special treatment should be awarded to him. As Harry, Sebastian Reid in his first major role, was great not giving an impression but rather giving his interpretation on the character in the same way that Michael Sheen does when he portrays a real-life personality. However a lot of it was under-written the scenes featuring the government were hardly reminiscent of scenes from The West Wing while Harry’s initial kidnappers were about as realistically drawn as the terrorists in Team America. Overall I’m not sure how well the Prince Harry story worked but I certainly learned a couple of things thanks to the documentary segments.
In the last edition I talked about how Jonathan Ross‘ departure from the BBC left several gaps in the schedule and some of his programmes had to be filled. While Claudia Winkleman and friends have started up on Film 2010, Wossy’s other two slots have been filled by Graham Norton (oh behave!!). And while Graham Norton filling in Ross’ radio show is a brand new thing with the 10:35 slot which used to house Friday Night with Jonathan Ross has now had the Graham Norton Show move into it. But this is simply a shift for Norton’s long-running BBC show which had previously been shown earlier in the week but hopefully now it’s in a more prominent position it will get a few more viewers. Where Norton’s show differs from Ross’ is that he has all three guests on the sofa to start off with and the interviews are a lot more informal and a lot naughtier. Also not everyone on the show has something to plug and if they do it’s not the only reason they’re there for example on the first programme Charlotte Church did talk about her new CD but this didn’t happen till near the end. Similarly Russell Howard talked about the second series of his Good News programme but again he was more interested in talking about his mum and the third guest Maggie Gyllenhaal talked about past and future projects. Overall this is more of an informal chat as the three guest talked about what it was like to be noticed on the street and what the press said about them. Norton’s show also always features the obligatory use of the internet and in this case he explored the Charlotte Church forums in which her ‘fans’ talked about what they would do in certain situations involving Church. Overall I have always enjoyed Norton’s post-watershed work and think he enjoys doing this a lot more than being involved in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s latest attempt to sell theatre tickets, however I’m guessing it pays well. The only criticism I would have is that it would’ve been nice for the BBC to keep the Friday Night programme with a new host rather than taking the easy option and shifting Norton, but I enjoy the programme all the same.
Now we have an offering from Mark Gattis as he adapts and stars in his take on H.G. Wells’ The First Men in The Moon. Gattis is best remembered for his work as one third of The League of Gentlemen but recently has been involved in the creation of the brilliant Sherlock as well as currently presenting his own BBC4 series on The History of Horror. The First Men on The Moon begins in 1969 on the day of the Moon Landings and sees a young boy at a fair journey into a stall occupied by a 90 year old man who tells the boy that he was the first man on and in the moon 60 years ago. The story then journeys to see the man, Julius Bradford, as a young man who is trying to finish a play and is distracted by his neighbour the daft Professor Cavor. Cavor shows Bedford that he has reversed Newton’s laws and has managed to make an apple go up to the ceiling and crush. Soon the men journey up to the moon in a cube constructed by Cavor and experience the wonders that are contained beneath the moon. However they are soon captured by odd space ant creatures who terrify them but appear harmless eventually Bradford manages to break free and takes the cube back to Earth while Cavor stays on the moon and begins to teach the moon creatures how to speak English and is eventually granted an audience with their leader. When Bradford gets back to England he quickly loses the cube and only has his cinematograph films as proof of his moon voyage which people don’t believe. Cavor sends a message to Bradford via a Dutch wireless system that he has put the idea of war into the minds of the moon people and they will soon attack. The end of the film sees the boy leave Bradford’s tent and go to watch the moon landing with his father as they watch on the T.V. screen we see one of the moon people lurking behind a crater ready to strike. For me I felt that The First Men in The Moon harked back to a better time in science fiction drama where things didn’t always have to blow up every five minutes and be accompanied by huge gazumping music. If anything the programme was a little slow at times but the pace was kept up thanks to the wonderful acting from Rory Kinnear as Bradford and Gattis as Cavor. Some of the effects were really good as well and the make-up team deserve a special mention for creating some truly spectacular moon creatures. At times I felt it lagged and was overly-wordy however I think the BBC should screen this on one of their main channels at a more favourable hour so maybe kids could watch and see that not all fantasy drama has to be made with millions of pounds and can be fairly simple.
Before I finish off I would like to mention Eastenders‘ recent storylines involving Billie Jackson’s death and the subsequent fallout. Unlike most soap deaths Billie’s wasn’t plugged as a big event as it was neither a big-scale murder or the result of a highly budgeted scene involving fire or water or a car accident. Instead Billlie simply passed away after drinking far too much during his 22nd birthday celebrations. The death wasn’t discovered until about ten minutes into the episode when Billie’s sister Bianca tried to wake him up and found to her horror that she couldn’t. The other characters as well as us the audience thought Billie had just had too much to drink and the start of the episode saw everyone go about their day normally with his mother Carol journeying to the bookies for work only to be rung up by Bianca to tell her the news. Everything from there seemed awfully realistic from the character’s shock at this seemingly unbelievable event and the doctor and paramedics keeping Carol and the rest of the family back while they carried out tests. For an episode of a long-running soap it was almost ground-breaking to have the last ten minutes without hardly any dialogue as Carol spent time with her son before the undertakers came to get him. The acting throughout the episode was superb especially from Lindsey Coulson as Carol and Patsy Palmer as Bianca who is often criticised for playing a character who mostly shouts however she was reserved and remorseful. Eastenders often gets a bad name for its sensationalist stories at its recent plot involving the sinister minister Lucas Johnson and his killings was seen as a step too far however this was both heartfelt and presented a serious issue in a way that felt very human. This did remind me of some of the issues-based episodes that new executive producer Brian Kirkwood use to produce when he was in charge over at Hollyoaks. A couple of months back Casualty proved that serial drama could be taken seriously as contributors to British drama thanks to its episodes concerning euthanasia. And I think that with these episodes involving Billie’s death, Eastenders has shown this as well.
Next Time: Getting On, DOA and Monte Carlo or Bust
What did you think of this week’s programmes? Leave a comment below