'God save the Queen for The Crown' - Netflix's crowning glory saves viewers from tedium
Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30
God save the Queen - or at least thank heavens for The Crown (Netflix), which saved my television week from an overload of tedium and tripe.
A couple of weeks back I wrote admiringly of The Crown's first episode, while wondering if I'd have the patience to persevere throughout the 10 instalments of this initial season, let alone the five more seasons to come.
Well, since then I've binge-watched most of it and have nothing but praise for the way it has avoided the temptations of hagiography in its portrait of a still reigning monarch. Indeed the young queen in this opening season is already a steely, unknowable and not especially likeable person - someone who, in the name of tradition and protocol, is prepared to sacrifice the romantic dreams of her younger sister.
Praise, too, to Claire Foy for a remarkably uningratiating portrayal that manages to be much more subtle than mere impersonation, though that's there, too, in the clipped vowels and basilisk stare. Indeed, there's a wealth of star turns here: Matt Smith as Philip, Vanessa Kirby as Margaret, Jared Harris as George VI, Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor, John Lithgow as Churchill and Ben Miles as Margaret's doomed lover Peter Townsend.
All of them must have relished Peter Morgan's clever and often acerbic script, while Morgan is also to be commended for his alertness to a wider social context - there's a touching episode involving Churchill's young secretary, who comes from a less privileged England than the people she serves, and there are vivid portraits of Labour leader Clement Attlee and other politicians and functionaries.
It all makes for an absorbing reimagining of postwar England and has set new standards for lavish historical dramas. The BBC, which has long considered itself the master of this domain, must feel quite envious.
Meanwhile back on RTÉ2, the lamentable Bridget and Eamon contrived a mirth-free half-hour with an episode in which the two spouses put themselves forward as political candidates. Cue laboured gags and frantic mugging from all concerned.
Still, it was a masterpiece of nuance compared with The Rubberbandits' Guide to Sex (RTÉ2), in which the plastic-bag-faced duo sought enlightenment from Wilde, Joyce and Beckett, who were lowering pints in a pub. "I'll teach you how to get your hole", Joyce told the two lads, one of whom boasted that he'd "fingered a shark in its blowhole".
I can't believe I'm passing on these quotes, but then I couldn't believe I was watching a comedy programme so witlessly unfunny. What has happened to these guys? 'Horse Outside' seems a long time ago.
On The Republic of Telly (RTÉ2), someone thought it a good idea to devise a sketch in which John Creedon played Bull McCabe in a parody of The Field. Also taking part were Aonghus McAnally, Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh and Dave Fanning, but if there was a point to this tediously unamusing skit it wasn't revealed.
Not that things were much better across the water. Since the nightmarish advent of President-Elect Trump, smug media liberals have imagined that the best response is to scoff at him, thus proving that they don't really get what's happening to their cosy little world.
And so, on Have I Got News For You (BBC1), Ian Hislop and his cronies have been sniggering at the lunacy of it all, while on Frankie Boyle's US Election Autopsy (BBC2), the bilious Scottish comic was reduced to sneering that Trump looked like someone "playing a president in a porno". Oh, that's telling him, Frankie.
Thanks, though, for Fir Bolg (TG4), a comedy-drama about a group of ageing musicians uneasily reuniting decades after they'd been a celebrated band.
There are no easy, or indeed obvious, laughs here, but there's a real sense of these fractious individuals and of the emotional and psychological baggage they've variously accumulated down through the years. With a bright script by Brian Reddin and with good playing by Seán McGinley, Don Wycherly and Aonghus McAnally, this Thursday night series is definitely worth a look.
And I chuckled at an Oliver Callan radio skit which declared that, in her current series, Vogue Williams was "boldly going where everyone had gone before". Certainly in this week's Vogue Williams: On the Edge (RTÉ2), she approached the subject of sexual cybercrime as if the topic was tabloid news.
"A sinkhole of predatory misogyny" was how she described the internet, while she herself had felt violated when a porn site photoshopped her head on to a woman's naked body.
Worse fates befell others and on a Chicago café balcony she chatted to Alicia, who as a young teenager had been groomed online by a middle-aged predator before he kidnapped, raped and beat her until her lucky rescue four days later.
This was properly shocking, but in a more uneasy sequence she also met a middle-aged English couple who styled themselves as "paedophile hunters" and who pretended to be young girls online in order to meet and expose the predators who contacted them.
The vigilante nature of their actions seemed less troubling to the presenter than to this viewer, and in general it was hard not to wonder what was to be taken from a film that had nothing new to say and that seemed more intent on conveying outrage than anything more helpful.