This instalment looks at the slim pre-Christmas pickings that have been available over the past fortnight .
Indeed we are getting to that time of the year where the majority of the new dramas have started airing and the festive schedules haven’t quite kicked in yet. However BBC2 bucked the trend by airing Legacy written by Paula Milne who brought us The Politician’s Husband earlier in the year. Set in 1974, Legacy is centred around Charles Thoroughgood who is training to be an MI6 agent when we first meet him. Charles is soon tasked with tracking down an old university friend, Viktor Kozlov, who is believed to be a KGB agent. Viktor quickly realises what Charles is doing and turns the tables on him by revealing that Charles’ father was actually a double agent. This gives Charles somewhat of a crisis of confidence as he can’t believe that his father was working for the Russians. Despite this news, Charles goes on with his mission and attempts to discover why Viktor is in the country. Running alongside the main story is Charles’ potential romance with Anna, the wife of one of his bosses, who he first meets during a training exercise. It’s clear that Charles and Anna are attracted to each other and when it’s revealed that her husband is having an affair. But she later tells him it’s not a good idea for them to romance as she’d just drag him down. Although Legacy does have an exciting enough final third, I didn’t feel the set piece was good enough to justify a drama that dragged for the most part.
Despite a promising start, Legacy soon drags as the dialogue-heavy scenes did nothing for my overall enjoyment of the drama. The story is incredibly lacklustre and the drama was far too long, clocking in as it did at almost ninety minutes. In addition I found the romantic subplot to be incredibly surplus to requirements as it didn’t really go anywhere. I actually did find the character of Anna herself to be fairly underwritten and wasn’t really worthy of being given to an actress as talented as Romola Gari. However I felt the other cast members saved Legacy from being a complete disaster especially Andrew Scott as the emotionally torn Viktor. Scott was completely convincing as a Russian throughout Legacy and I felt he made us both sympathise and fear Viktor in equal measure. If it didn’t do anything else, Legacy at least proved that Scott is a versatile actor as his performance here was different to the ones he delivered in both The Town and Sherlock. Charlie Cox was similarly impressive as every man Charles whose early enthusiasm for the job was quickly diminished when he learnt of his father’s past. Simon Russell Beale and Christian McKay also added fine support as Charles’ MI6 bosses who both were utterly believable in their roles. There’s no denying that Legacy looked great as it really captured the grey mood of Britain in the mid-1970s. However there’s no getting away from the fact that there were no characters who I really connected with and that this Cold War drama ultimately left me quite cold.
2013 really has been the year of the Channel 4 observational documentary a trend that started with The Hotel and peaked with the excellent Educating Yorkshire. The channel have had their fair share of misses in the genre, most notably the dire The Nightclub Toilet, and are ending the year with a documentary celebrating the festive shopping experience. Liberty of London focuses on the legendary department store which is currently be redeveloped by American retail guru Ed Burstell. Since arriving at Liberty, Ed’s vision has been to maximise the space that the store has to offer as well as making exclusive deals with designers. As with all of these types of documentary, Liberty looks at some of the characters that populate the store including help desk operator Judy-Rose who Ed describes as someone straight out of Are You Being Served? My favourite member of staff was definitely Shulka, who had been at Liberty for almost forty years, despite seeming a little eccentric we see that Shulka has a great sales technique which is probably the reason she’s been kept on for so long. As we approach the festive season, I found it interesting that Christmas for the Liberty staff really starts in July when the Christmas Store is under construction and temporary staff are hired. As somebody who doesn’t live in the capital, I found the displays truly sumptuous and was particularly impressed by the full sized toy bear which was also for sale. One of the documentary’s best features was its cinematography as the sweeping shots of the store really made you feel part of the action. However I felt that there was too much going on in this first episode and I feel that the main focus should have been on the opening of the Christmas Shop with maybe one or two subplots going on in the background. Ultimately I did enjoy Liberty of London as it let me into an eccentric and exquisite world of shopping but I just didn’t enjoy the scattershot approach that was applied to the narrative of the programme.
Remember Miquita Oliver? Well the former Popworld presenter has got herself into some real bother since T4 came to an end and she eventually ended up declaring bankruptcy. With a history of financial problems BBC3 thought she was the obvious person to explore the new trend of payday loan companies. Young, British and Broke saw Miquita try to advice the British youth not to make the same mistakes she had and realise that the interest on the loans was fairly astronomical. The programme was sort of broken up into two sections with the first seeing Miquita interviewing various youngsters who have had experiences with Payday Loans. She meets some people who use the loans for having a good night out, with one even using the Wonga App while she’s out on the lash. At the same cautionary tales about the loans are told by a girl who’s had to put her future on hold to pay back the money she owes. The most tragic tale was that of Kenny who took loans out when he’d injured himself and committed suicide as we too proud to admit what he’d done to his friends. The other part of the programme saw Miquita go all Rogue Traders on us as she set up her own faux Payday Loan shop where she met several youngsters who didn’t realise what they were getting themselves in to. She also went on the other side of the counter to discover the underhanded tactics loan companies employ to ensnare unsuspecting clients. I felt that there was an imbalance in tone between the two sides of the programme and that Miquita should have really focused on telling more of the youngsters’ cautionary tales. In fact I feel that some of these segments should be screened in schools to forewarn pupils before they enter the big bad world. Additionally I would’ve like to have heard more about Miquita’s own money worries which were only briefly touched upon in the documentary. Furthermore I felt that Kenny’s story didn’t have enough time devoted to it and it almost seemed shoved in towards the end of the show. Ultimately, though the programme appeared to have good intentions, I felt it was tonally imbalanced and didn’t capitalise on the first-hand experiences of its presenter.
Finally we have The Audience, a programme that first started on Channel 4 last year and has navigated over to More 4 for its second run. When The Audience first aired I felt it was an interesting concept as one person entrusts fifty strangers to make a monumental life decision for them. However, the format got repetitive over time and I’m actually surprised that this has been brought back for a second series. The question posed to the audience was whether or not Jane Mason should be able to adopt. Jane was born with a degenerative condition which has stunted her growth and initially appeared to be quite hostile when the audience asked her questions about how it affected her daily routine. Jane initially appeared quite guarded and it was only when it was revealed that she was a lesbian that she began to open up. Jane then revealed that she’d previously miscarried and that she also suffered from confidence issues which meant she often put up an emotional barrier between her and others. This begs the question why agree to appear on a programme like this in the first place if you have confidence problems? I have to say I did really warm to Jane over the course of the programme but at the same time the question seemed to be fairly black and white. The dilemma in the very first episode of The Audience was a decision that would have made somebody unhappy whichever way the subject went. But here the only person’s happiness on the line was Jane’s and I know exactly what side of the fence I’d be on if I was member of The Audience. Speaking of the group themselves I found some of them quite overly aggressive and a few seemed to be monopolising as much screen time as possible. I do feel that The Audience should really be passive observers for the most part and not try to make themselves the stars of the show. It was for this reason that this episode of The Audience didn’t really gel with me and as a result it deterred me from watching the other two episodes in this series.
Next time: The Great Train Robbery, Derren Brown and The X-Factor final.