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John Boland's week in TV: No titillation in Tangier as erotic tales prove a turn-off



Damp: Hugh Skinner and Juno Temple in Little Birds on Sky Atlantic

Damp: Hugh Skinner and Juno Temple in Little Birds on Sky Atlantic

Damp: Hugh Skinner and Juno Temple in Little Birds on Sky Atlantic

Set mainly in the Tangier of the 1950s, Little Birds (Sky Atlantic) is based on Anaïs Nin's erotic short stories but, after watching two episodes, I found it about as sexy as a soggy dishcloth.

Nin's erotica, which she wrote to order for wealthy male clients in the 1940s, were collected in two books (Delta of Venus and Little Birds) that were published after her death in 1977 and were notable for their elegance and nuance as well as their sexual frankness.

Some of these stories have been reimagined for this six-part series, whose framing device has repressed young Manhattan heiress Lucy being dispatched by her controlling father to exotic Tangier, where she is to marry English aristocrat Lord Hugo Cavendish-Smythe.

Before she gets there, though, we see Lord Hugo writhing in the sand with a Moroccan prince and we also see local dominatrix Cheriza plying her trade by urinating on one of her clients. When Lucy arrives in Tangier and discovers that Lord Hugo isn't capable of fulfilling her desires, the stage is set for her sexual awakening by other means.

All of this is presumably meant to be titillating, but I was mainly reminded of such supposedly risqué soft-porn films of the 1970s as Emmanuelle, in which Sylvia Kristel succumbed to the advances of various dodgy (make that predatory) men in her bid for sexual liberation.

Kristel, though, had a certain allure, whereas Juno Temple, who plays Lucy, is so stilted and mannered and pouty that you just don't care what happens to her.

The same goes for Hugh Skinner as Lord Hugo - indeed, this actor has been so amusing as a clueless Prince William in the spoofing sitcom The Windsors that it's almost impossible to imagine him as anyone else. Colonialism and racism are touched on in the opening episodes, and binge-watchers may well tell me that the sumptuously shot series gets more absorbing as it goes along, but I'm afraid two hours were more than enough for this viewer.

If Lord Hugo kept reminding me of the actor's Prince William skit, I've been spending most of A Suitable Boy (BBC1) waiting for Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith to drop in on their way back from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Yes, I know that doesn't really make sense, given that the entire cast of A Suitable Boy are non-white, but there's something about the production values and tone of this series that seems quintessentially British rather than truly Indian - attributable, no doubt, to screenwriter Andrew Davies's expertise in adapting English literary classics.

Spitfire Paddy (RTÉ1), produced and directed by Gerry Johnston, was a tale of derring-do recounted in a Boy's Own manner by Philip O'Sullivan. It was very engaging, and enlightening, too, for those of us who knew nothing about the World War II exploits of Dubliner Brendan Finucane. Nicknamed Paddy by his English colleagues, he joined the RAF in 1938 at the age of 18 and by the time of his death on a 1942 flying mission he was only 21.

In the interim, his skills and bravery had made him a hero in Britain and beyond, with newspaper headlines celebrating his exploits as he shot down more than 30 enemy planes - and this despite the fact that he thought war "a terrible way to settle anything".

There were good interviews with some of his old RAF colleagues, while well-edited archive footage contributed to the film's vivid recall.

Just as celebratory was Jurgen Klopp: Germany's Greatest Export (Channel 4), a somewhat awestruck profile of the media-friendly manager who, a few weeks back, brought Liverpool back to national triumph after three decades in the Premier League doldrums.

Narrator David Morrissey set the tone from the outset, describing the genial Klopp as "the big German with the reassuring smile". Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard followed suit, noting "the big warm smile" and "the big warm cuddle", while German colleague Jürgen Klinnsmann assured us that Klopp "has always been a people person".

And so he seems to be, telling the assembled media when he took up the job with Liverpool in 2015 that, unlike José Mourinho's claim to be "the special one": "I'm the normal one".

Once Upon a Time in Iraq (BBC2), which ends on Monday night, has been an outstanding series, and equally impressive was the opening instalment of the two-part Cuba: Castro vs the World (also BBC2).

Produced by Norma Percy, who was behind the riveting 1995 series The Death of Yugoslavia, this first episode went from the overthrow of Batista in 1959 up to Castro's 1980s military interventions in Angola and other places far distant from his Caribbean dictatorship.

As in The Death of Yugoslavia, Percy got interviews with most of the main players, whether US or Soviet officials or senior colleagues of Castro. It made for an absorbing hour and was preceded by Colin Stafford-Johnson's excellent Wild Cuba, recently premiered on RTÉ1.

Trinity College immunologist Luke O'Neill, famous since Covid struck for his endearingly eccentric and twinkly media contributions, was among the global experts assembled for Race Against the Virus (Channel 4).

Paced like a thriller, this took viewers from the first outbreak in Wuhan through cruise ships off Japan to frightening surges in Italy via calamitous Cheltenham attendances and Boris Johnson boasting about shaking everyone's hand.

Indo Review