Wednesday 13 December 2017

Shades of racial tension from steamy days of raj to UKIP

Julie Walters in Indian Summers
Julie Walters in Indian Summers
Alex Polizzi

John Boland

In his 1965 film, It Happened Here, Kevin Brownlow imagined an England that was ruled by the Nazis, and in this week's UKIP: The First 100 Days (Channel 4), writer-director Chris Atkins envisaged a Britain run by Nigel Farage's extreme right-wing party.

This mash-up of drama and real documentary footage focused on fictional UKIP MP Deepa, a young Asian woman who tried to counter any racial antagonism by describing herself as merely "brown-faced" and who was being pushed by her superiors as the reassuring face of odious anti-immigration policies. Sadly, although excellently played by Priyanga Burford, Deepa remained a shallow embodiment of the film's crude satirical intent.

This was also manifested in scenes of heavy gang raids on curry houses and other "alien" establishments, which were intercut with footage of Farage insisting "we are not a racist party" and warning "do not ever call us a racist party".

This was all quite good fun in its very obvious way (the smoking ban reversed, Neil Hamilton as deputy PM), especially for right-minded viewers who loathe everything that Farage's party stands for, but I couldn't help wondering at the film's timing. With a general election looming, I can't imagine such a scathing docudrama being made about the Tories, Labour or the Lib Dems, all of whom would justifiably complain about such nakedly fear-inducing bias by a programme maker.

Clearly, UKIP are considered fair game for such mockery, but the timing of the film still struck me as curious. In the run-up to the next Irish general election, will RTÉ feel emboldened to make a similarly nightmarish fantasy about Sinn Féin or the independent socialists? That might be fun, too, but I rather think that RTÉ's much-vaunted insistence on "balance" will prevail.

The week's other two main dramas had their political slants, too. In the opening episode of The Casual Vacancy (BBC1), which is based on JK Rowling's first novel for adults, the sleepy and seemingly idyllic Cotswolds village of Pagford was seething with animosity towards anyone who wasn't resolutely middle class and preferably white.

These traits were summed up by businessman baker Howard Mollison (Michael Gambon) who fulminated at a local council meeting about the "junkies and plebs streaming through our village". And when the village's Indian doctor sardonically riposted that "we should waterboard them just to be on the safe side" she was met with the hissed insult "Guardian reader!"

Standing up for the plebs and down-and-outs was socially-concerned solicitor Barry, who unfortunately made the mistake of exclaiming "over my dead body" - thus alerting the cliché-cognisant viewer to the probability that he wasn't long for this world. And, indeed, he expired on the street a few minutes later, which was a pity given that the always excellent Rory Kinnear had made him one of the few interesting characters.

I liked, too, Abigail Lawrie as surly, stroppy council estate teenager Krystal, but the middle-class characters never rose above the level of cardboard cut outs spouting vile attitudes - just as they'd done in the original novel by Rowling, who'd been on the wrong end of the welfare system herself before Harry Potter made her rich and famous.

Class and ethnicity were also at the core of Indian Summers, which began a 10-week run on Channel 4 and which seems just the ticket for those viewers old enough to feel nostalgic about the 1984 series, The Jewel in the Crown.

That was adapted from Paul Scott's Raj Quartet of novels and was set in the run-up to Indian independence. Here, though, we were in 1932, with no indication of the sun ever setting on the British empire, though with lots of indications that all was not well, especially for those who didn't happen to be wealthy and white.

Yet, though due consideration was given to the plight of the native underlings (hindsight's a great thing), nearly all the dramatic attention was paid to the privileged rulers and to their sexual and social dilemmas.

So a bit like Downton Abbey, then, and with Julie Walters promising to be a sub-continent version of Maggie Smith, though a good deal feistier than that frigid fusspot.

There was a handsome young Indian clerk, too, and I confidently expect him to have a torrid romance with blonde-haired Alice, who had just arrived at this foot-of-the-Himalayas stronghold after the end of an unhappy marriage. But will the course of true love run smoothly for them? My guess is no.

Anyway, the series cost £14m (€19m), making it Channel 4's dearest-ever drama, and you can see every penny of it on screen, with gorgeous landscapes and stunning sets. Is that enough? I think not.

Introducing The Seven O'Clock Show (TV3), Martin King was also chuffed about the "fancy new set", which apparently was much better than the set with which he and co-host Lucy Kennedy had been lumbered on their former lunchtime show.

I had to take his word for it because I'd never seen the lunchtime show, but then Martin seems to be on every TV3 programme ever made, so it's hard to keep up.

Anyway, their first guest on this five-nightly show was Seán McGinley who, according to Martin, was not just an "Irish acting legend" but was also "Irish acting royalty". ("Steady on, Martin," a bemused Seán murmured.)

Then Martin told us that Seán had met his wife when she asked him to audition for a play, and a photograph of Druid actress Marie Mullen duly appeared on screen, though as nobody mentioned her name we had to guess who she was and that she was Seán's spouse. A little later, there was a conversation with Irish Cancer Society spokeswoman Naomi, whom Martin called Mairéad, and then there was a chat with entertainment guy Brian, who described Wolf Hall as "kind of like Game of Thrones" - in much the same way, I suppose, as The Sopranos is kind of like Love/Hate.

Francis fixes it more winningly

At Your Service (RTÉ1) is largely notable, and entertainingly so, for the exuberantly camp theatricality of hotelier-presenter Francis Brennan, with brother John a reliably deadpan foil.

Over on BBC2, their role as roving inspectors of fallible enterprises is taken by Alex Polizzi, who may look more fetching than the Irish duo but who brings an air of smug condescension to her task that's less endearing.

In this week's edition of Alex Polizzi: The Fixer, she was sighing about the inability of Wimbledon pet shop owner Sebastian to heed her advice. "I fear my efforts will be in vain", she sniffed at one point, having previously moaned: "My fears about their lacklustre approach prove correct".

Francis Brennan often says much the same thing but more mischievously and in half the time it takes Polizzi to wrap things up.

Indo Review

Promoted Links

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment