Poor David Threlfall. Can the man not catch a break? He spends nine long years on Shameless, during which he never seems to get the chance to take a bath or have a decent shave, and now here he is again, hair shorter but still in need of a good wash, and once again sporting far too much facial hair.
hat’s more, he’s STILL being nagged by his family. Not the same family, obviously, because this is The Ark and not Shameless, but if anything the nagging is even worse.
“What are you doing building that stupid big boat? We’re living in a desert, 70 miles from the sea!
“While you’re out there all day in the sun, sawing planks and hammering nails and dragging big logs up slopes, the crops are dying and your kids are going to pot – literally.
“The youngest one is slipping out at night to the big, bad city, smoking wacky baccy from a pipe and sharing a bed with a shameless (no pun intended) hussy.
“Everybody thinks you’re stark raving mad. Get a grip, man, in the name of God!”
Ah, but of course Threlfall, who’s playing Noah, is doing all of this precisely in the name of God.
A white-clad angel played by Ashley Walters, who’s required to do very little in his two short scenes other than look proper angelic, appears one day and tells Noah God wants him to build a huge ark to protect him, his family and all the other good, God-fearing folk from the great flood that He’s about to unleash to cleanse the world of those who have lost all faith and turned their back on Him.
Given that it’s not quite Easter yet, it feels a little early for a Biblical epic. It also feels a little too soon to be retelling the story of Noah after the bloated Darren Aronofsky-Russell Crowe movie.
Then again, this isn’t really a Biblical epic in the accepted sense; you can’t do Cecil Be DeMille on a BBC budget. We don’t get to see the actual flood until near the very end, and then only for a couple of minutes.
Tony Jordan, who used to be the top writer on EastEnders, went on to co-create Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, and also did a version of The Nativity for the BBC a few years ago, has repurposed the bombastic Bible story into a tale about the unwavering faith family members are supposed to have in one another.
“Shame on you all,” Noah’s wife Emmie (Joanne Whalley) tells their strapping sons when they opt to spend their time working the family’s subsistence farm rather than helping their father build the ark. Mind you, she’s no more convinced than they are that Noah hasn’t flipped his lid, but he’s her man and she’s going to stand by him.
This being a self-consciously modern take on an old chestnut, there are clumsy attempts to find contemporary resonances in the story, especially when Noah starts preaching about the evil moneylenders forcing people into a lifetime of debt.
On the plus side, the cast are pleasingly multi-ethnic – an improvement on the old Hollywood days of white-skinned, blue-eyed Jesuses – and all the actors speak in their natural accents.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the dialogue any better.
"Don’t worry," Noah’s youngest son Kenan (Nico Mirallegro) is told by his girlfriend, “my dad gets a bit cranky too – one of my friends is having a party tonight, do you want to come?”
Elsewhere, the Biblical cousin of every smug hipster twat you’ve ever encountered at a student house party sneers: “Oh yeah, so God is sending a flood . . . thing.”
If you saw Threlfall’s astonishing Tommy Cooper in Not Like That, Like This, you’ll know he’s one of the best actors working today. But not even he can save The Ark from sinking to the level of a Hallmark TV movie.
The Ark BBC1