Tuesday 21 November 2017

John Boland: Game, set and match to Borg, McEnroe, Becker...

Wimbledon Beo TG4
125 Years of Wimbledon: You Cannot Be SeriousBBC2
The View Presents...RTÉ1
Fake or FortuneBBC1
Case HistoriesBBC1

Conor Niland did his darndest but, alas, it wasn't quite good enough, as Irish viewers sadly witnessed on Wimbledon Beo (TG4) last Tuesday. Still, maybe his pluckiness in defeat will gain him a staunch following at next year's tournament -- move over, Henman Hill and Murray Mound, and make way for Niland Knoll.

As it happened, Nice but Tim was one of the "nearly men" who was given honoured mention in 125 Years of Wimbledon: You Cannot Be Serious (BBC2), a celebration of the event's history that was as unwieldy as its title.

Along the way, it also crammed in a variety of clichés more lethal than a Nadal first serve, most of them coming from the indefatigably upbeat and oddly endearing Sue Barker, who in her playing heyday (I use the term loosely) had been one of British tennis's nearly women.

Sue recalled that when she first visited Wimbledon as a youngster, she thought "Wow! This is the home of tennis!" Her perspicacity is even more honed nowadays, as she revealed when considering the Williams siblings: "No one can touch them -- they're just in a different league." And she was equally insightful when contemplating the illustrious career of Martina Navratilova, who apparently "changed the face of women's tennis".

Not to be outdone in perceptiveness, Tim disclosed that the reason why Pete Sampras won so many titles in the 1990s was because "he had that little something extra", and then it was back to Sue to gaily inform us that everyone loves this particular fortnight simply because "Wimbledon is Wimbledon, and it doesn't matter who's playing".

That's not true, of course, and what made the film watchable were the visual reminders of some of the great moments -- many of them coming from Borg, McEnroe, Becker, Agassi, Ivanisevic, Federer, Nadal, Graf, Novotna, Navratilova and the Williamses, all of whom were interviewed to recall their triumphs and defeats.

RTÉ having gone on its summer holidays, I focused most of my attention on cross-channel shows, though not before checking out The View Presents . . . (RTÉ1), a new series of interviews conducted by arts show host and broadcaster John Kelly. Perhaps upcoming meetings with Andy Irvine, Garry Hynes and James Ellroy will prove engrossing but the opener, which featured Pat Shortt, was dull.

Shortt's slapstick antics in Killinaskully and Mattie exceed my personal tolerance levels but, like everyone else, I admired him greatly in the film Garage and I was interested to hear him on the different facets of his career.

Yet, though he seemed a likeable man, sadly he'd nothing to say, beyond that erstwhile comedy colleague Jon Kenny and himself "got on very well from the start", that movies were "a different ballgame" which required "a huge learning curve" and that he loved every aspect of his working life. It made for a long half-hour.

In the first episode of Fake or Fortune (BBC1), newsreader and Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce set out to discover whether or not a Monet painting owned by 82-year-old Englishman David Joel was the real deal. Various experts had testified to its authenticity, but the only verdict that mattered was that of Paris-based billionaire Guy Wildenstein, the official and extremely autocratic cataloguer of Monet's works, who has never bothered to justify or even explain his decisions.

Wildenstein had been rebuffing Joel for decades, so Fiona and art expert Philip Mould took up the cause, travelling from London to Paris to Cairo and back again. At one juncture, the painting was impounded for a week by a zealous customs official in the Gare du Nord, which made Fiona very cross indeed. "I'm so angry," she seethed. But enough impressive historical and DNA evidence had been amassed for her to be confident that the work was a genuine Monet.

Finally, though, she learned that the implacable Wildenstein, even when confronted with all the new facts, had decisively decreed "Non!" yet again, which left her feeling "outraged" at the injustice of it all. Indeed, so absorbing had been the film that the viewer felt much the same.

Case Histories (BBC1), a series of two-part crime dramas based on novels by Kate Atkinson, has lots that's wrong with it -- a backstory that seems redundant, slackly plotted storylines that forget to tie up loose ends, a schmaltzy father-daughter situation that keeps threatening to grind the action to a standstill, and an uneasy mixture of the brutal and the comic.

Yet there's a quirkiness to it all that's very beguiling, along with some outstanding performances. As put-upon private eye Jackson Brodie, who operates in Edinburgh's mean streets, Jason Isaacs is a crumpled hard man with a soft centre, unable to turn down hopeless cases and usually faring less well than his adversaries in physical encounters.

As the policewoman who conceals her lust for him with withering putdowns, Amanda Abbington is just as winning, and subsidiary players are also given real roles to inhabit, while Edinburgh has never looked more mysterious or more beautiful.


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