Wednesday 21 March 2018

The sex lives of the rarefied classes

Partners in Crime BBC1
Partners in Crime BBC1

Life in Squares (BBC2) gets its title from a gibe that someone made about the Bloomsbury set as "a circle who lived in squares and loved in triangles" - not an hilarious observation but certainly wittier than anything in the first instalment of this dramatic retelling of the story.

"Are they all sodomites then?" Virginia Stephen asks sister Vanessa, who replies: "What does it matter who puts what, where and with whom?"

It certainly doesn't matter to these people and within minutes we find floppy-haired aesthete Duncan crumpling the bedsheets both with budding biographer Lytton Strachey and with burgeoning economist John Maynard Keynes.

Vanessa, for her part, hits the sack with artist Clive Bell, afterwards telling her sister (later to become Virginia Woolf) that it was simply divine, though brother Toby's desires are less carnal. "I've the most damnable craving for anchovy toast," he announces at a salon.

All of this carry-on might have seemed somewhat daring in a 1970s drama series, but it registers as pathetically old hat in 2015, and matters aren't helped by the fact that it's impossible to care two hoots about any of these rarefied characters, though Phoebe Fox has a striking presence as Vanessa.

More winning, if just as disappointing, was the first episode of Partners in Crime (BBC1), based on characters to whom Agatha Christie occasionally returned when she wasn't writing about Poirot or Miss Marple.

Here, the time is the 1950s and the main protagonists are vaguely unhappy married couple Tommy and Tuppence, who are investigating a young woman's disappearance from a train.

Jessica Raine and David Walliams, pictured right, are good value (Raine, who was so good as Lady Jane in Wolf Hall, is especially sparky), but the plotting is all over the place and some of it made absolutely no sense to me.

Still, the period is excellently evoked, and I've little doubt that the series will appeal to BBC1's traditional Sunday night audience, if not exactly in Poldark numbers.

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