TV & Radio

Friday 1 August 2014

Why they're calling this snobby Titanic show 'Drownton Abbey'

Published 31/03/2012|05:00

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Throughout my life I've had many I-wish-I'd-said-that moments, the latest of them occasioned by journalist Alison Graham, who writes an entertainingly opinionated column in the Radio Times and who last week summed up ITV's much-hyped four-part drama, Titanic, as Drownton Abbey.

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Those two words tell it all, so why bother adding another few hundred to them? Well, just to alert viewers who've spent the last two years holidaying on Venus (looking especially alluring these cloudless nights) that the period drama Downton Abbey was created and scripted by Julian Fellowes, who's now had the energy-saving brainwave of taking the same stock characters and plonking them on to the decks and dining rooms of the doomed liner.

And thus we had the decent but ineffectual aristo putting up with his wife's supercilious airs and graces while he tried to keep a parental eye on his flighty suffragette daughter, who simpered coquettishly whenever Italian waiters winked at her.

That's the thing about the lower classes in dramas written by Julian -- they simply don't know their place. And so we got an impudent London prison officer mocking Lord Whatisname's title and status when he arrived to get his daughter out of the clink.

In the real Edwardian world, the uppity prison officer would have been out of a job two minutes later. But in the world according to Julian cheeky chappies sneer at their superiors all the time.

That, of course, makes for good drama, if not good history. And thus we also had the bitterly resentful Irish wife of a toadying lawyer creating a scene when condescended to by haughty Lady Whatsername (Irish, too, though she hated being reminded of it), whose well-meaning husband had invited the ungrateful woman and her lickspittle spouse to take tea with them in the section reserved for first-class passengers.

Not that Lady Whatsername's manners were any better. Indeed, she was so obnoxiously insulting to every social inferior it was a wonder no one got round to clattering her. Perhaps they were distracted by the iceberg, which I had expected to make its presence felt somewhere in the fourth episode but which instead caused its mischief after the opening instalment's second ad break.

This, I gather, is because Fellowes has devised the series to seesaw back and forwards in time, with each episode focusing on different perspectives.

Let's only hope it gets more interesting and less cliched as it goes along on both ITV and TV3.

Certainly from its first hour I can't see it supplanting James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster in the affections of that movie's fans -- though I've always much preferred the less flamboyant but more affecting 1958 version, A Night to Remember, which had Kenneth More at his do-the-right-thing British best as heroic second officer Herbert Lightoller.

In Mark Lawson Talks to Graham Norton (BBC4), the Irish comedian and chat-show host spoke with feeling of the alienation and loneliness he felt growing up as a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic small-town society.

The interview in general was quite engrossing, though it was disappointing to hear this supposedly iconoclastic performer speak with such awe of the increasingly risible Madonna, who was a humourless and stilted guest on one of his recent shows. "I was genuinely geeked and excited," he told Lawson. "I know it's tragic, but it was a big day for me."

Indeed, he seemed so smitten by any celebrity greater than his own that he refrained from any of the tittle-tattle I was hoping for -- refusing at one point to say which particular superstar had demanded nine dressing rooms (including one for a cellphone) before consenting to appear on his show. Lawson tried to press him on the matter, but he wasn't naming names. Where's the fun in that?

The week's fun came, not from multimillionaire presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who was profiled in This World: The Mormon Candidate (BBC Two), but from another member of the same sect, Kirk Anderson, who was kidnapped in 1977 while practising his faith in England.

His abductor was former US beauty queen Joyce McKinney and her bizarre story was told in Errol Morris's droll documentary, Tabloid: Sex in Chains (BBC4), in which she garrulously participated, though she later sued Morris for her portrayal in the documentary.

Barely 20 when she fixated on the object of her lust (who looked like the stereotype of a dull accountant), she hired two guys to cross the Atlantic with her, snatch her prey at gunpoint outside his church in Surrey and manacle him to a bed in an isolated Devon cottage.

She was sentenced for this but jumped bail and fled England in disguise, not to be heard of again until three years ago when she got her dead dog cloned in a much-publicised South Korean experiment. The documentary showed her with the five cloned puppies.

"A perfect tabloid story" was how one newspaper reporter described shenanigans involving religion, sex, chains, guns and a beauty queen. It was a hoot.

On The Frontline (RTÉ One), a man in the audience said corruption was so embedded in our daily life that when he recently dropped a fiver on the street a granny scooped it up and made off with it.

Mysteriously, Pat Kenny never asked him why he didn't confront this blithe thief -- or, indeed, how he knew she was a granny.

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