Sunday 23 July 2017

Kat and Alfie bring clouds of cliché to the sunny south-east

Riding into a storm: Alfie, Agnes, Lance, Adeen and Kathleen in Redwater
Riding into a storm: Alfie, Agnes, Lance, Adeen and Kathleen in Redwater

John Boland

So here we are in Redwater (RTÉ1/BBC1), a picturesque seaside village on Ireland's sunny south-east, and London visitor Kat Moon is searching for her long-lost child.

Could he be the one, she wonders as she encounters a handsome young farmer. Or maybe him, as she spies another contender. Or perhaps it's that personable fella over there. She stops short of accosting every 30-something guy she comes across, but we quickly get the message, as do the locals, some of whom have dark and perhaps sinister secrets to hide.

Fans of EastEnders will be familiar with Kat and hubby Alfie from their time on that shouty soap, but those of us who've always recoiled from its excesses (all that snarling ill-will) will have to take it on faith that this duo had their devoted followers until they departed the scene last year.

Now they've fetched up in Redwater (Dunmore East to you and me), where they're promptly sized up by suspicious old ice-cream seller Agnes (Fionnula Flanagan) and her grey-bearded husband Lance (Ian McElhinney), who likes to ride around the place in a cowboy hat and ankle-length coat as if he's auditioning for a remake of The Long Riders.

Then there's ferrety little priest Fr Dermot, who at the end of the first episode is informed that he's Kat's long-lost son and, for reasons that quite escaped me, drowns Lance in the sea, though not before forcing him to swallow a Communion wafer. Even EastEnders might baulk at that turn of events.

Did I mention that Redwater (or, in its full unwieldy title, Kat and Alfie: Redwater) is a load of cobblers? The script is tired and clichéd, the plotting is perfunctory, the characters are stereotypes and the performances are mostly dismal, with Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie especially colourless as the lead duo. Still, Dunmore East looks pretty, though if that gets you through five more episodes you're a more tolerant viewer than I am.

In The British Academy Television Awards 2017 (BBC1), Phoebe Waller-Bridge was deservedly honoured for her dark comedy series Fleabag, though the barkingly unfunny Michael McIntyre was also feted, while the terrific Netflix series The Crown went unrewarded, despite being nominated in five categories.

"The best 10 hours I've spent under a duvet" was Sarah Lancashire's verdict on The Crown when she was named best actress for Happy Valley (another deserved winner) and indeed it was dismaying that it came away with no awards. It was certainly vastly superior to The People v OJ Simpson, which won for best international drama, even though its star-studded re-enactment of that notorious case added nothing to what we already knew.

Praise then to BBC4 for its five-nightly screening of OJ Simpson: Made in America, which won an Oscar this year. Not everyone will feel they've eight hours to spare for a story about which so much is already known, but this was marvellous film-making as director Ezra Edelman painstakingly evoked an America in which race, class, status and celebrity determined not just the outcome of the trial but the conditions that created Simpson himself.

Observers on this side of the Atlantic never quite understood why this football player became such a national hero that he managed to transcend racial boundaries, though he achieved this partly through his dogged insistence that he was colourless. "I'm not black, I'm OJ" was his constant refrain.

That wasn't true, of course, and it alienated many in the black community who were battling the brutal injustices of a police mentality that was just as savagely prejudicial then as it has shown itself to be in recent years of summary killings by police officers.

Through interviews and unfamiliar footage, the film detailed all of this and a lot more while never losing sight of Simpson's own story, both as public hero and as private demon whose violent rages and jealousies were vented on his wife Nicole.

Unlike The People v OJ Simpson, Edelman's film paid due attention to Nicole, not just as murder victim but as a living person whose blond, white good looks had given her husband further reassurance that he had somehow escaped the confines of definition by colour.

The film, which began with recent footage of Simpson in prison, where he's serving a 33-year term on an unrelated conviction for kidnapping and armed robbery, conveyed an extraordinary sense of a whole society in turmoil, and it made for riveting viewing.

Less riveting was Ivanka Trump: America's Real First Lady? (Channel 4), in which reporter Matt Frei came up with nothing we didn't already know while positing the notion that the US president's robotic daughter might well become president herself in years to come.

Now there's a thought, though not as unsettling as the television interview shown here in which she's asked what she has in common with her father and she says "real estate and golf", while Trump himself then declares "Well, I was going to say sex..." Yikes.

How did I miss out last week on King Charles III (BBC2)? I've seen it since and it was easily the best single drama of the year so far. Scripted in contemporary blank verse by Mike Bartlett, it had all the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy as it offered a scenario in which an aged Prince Charles finally gets the chance to rule but is undone not just by his own intransigence, but also by the scheming of an ambitious Kate and spineless hubby William.

Charlotte Riley was excellent as this young Lady Macbeth, but the film belonged to Tim Pigott-Smith in the central role. Sadly, he died just before it was screened, but this was a wonderful swan song.

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