Miriam’s Big Fat Adventure
Monday & Tuesday, BBC2
Thursday, Sky One
I had always thought Miriam Margolyes was one of those (rare, very rare) women who are perfectly fine with the way they look. I certainly remember one episode of The Real Marigold Hotel where she declined a makeover offered by some Russian women on the grounds that it was wholly unnecessary, ‘as I am beautiful.’ I remember because I was so impressed. What I didn’t know is that it wasn’t the full story.
As she said at the outset of Miriam’s Big Fat Adventure: ‘I’m happy with who I am. I’m happy with my face. I’m happy with my life. I’m disgusted with my body. I loathe it. If I could migrate the whole of my personality and face on to another body, I’d be delighted.’ So that was shocking but, happily, she is still much the same in other respects and still likes to eat a raw onion as if it were an apple, which I think we’ll all find impressive until our dying day.
Miriam Margolyes admires bodybuilder Aeronn. The show had no real thesis, but, actually, there was a conclusion of sorts, even if it didn’t amount to more than ‘I Yam What I Yam’
This two-part ‘journey’ investigating our attitudes to fatness was from what I call ‘the hither and thither’ genre of programming where a personality is dispatched hither and thither without being expected to develop a thesis. Here, Miriam (4ft 11in, 14st 11lb, BMI of 41.6) was dispatched to meet body positivists, attendees at a military-style, fat-loss bootcamp, a binge eater, women who have undergone bariatric surgery, and so on.
The usual suspects, in other words, and mostly it was an exercise in validation. She was wowed by the body positivists who said ‘if you have a problem with our weight it’s your problem’, but was just as wowed by Ricky, who had lost 14 stone. So it was all over the place in that respect and, also, some of her interviewees obviously had deeper problems – what was going on with Will from Harrow School? – such that their weight, in fact, might have been the least of it, or a symptom of something else, but this was never explored.
However, these hither-and-thither programmes live or die on the strength of the personality involved. Miriam, who is 78 but still somehow childlike – a pensioner and toddler rolled into one – was able to carry it, even if you were mostly waiting for the parts when she talked about her own life and described, for instance, what it was like being the fat kid never getting picked for a sports team. (‘Early on you learn the pain of rejection because your body isn’t wanted.’)
There was also a fascinating lunch with her best friend Carol, who has lately lost two stone, and served Miriam a bigger portion of food than she had, and told Miriam she probably shouldn’t lose weight as she’d also lose ‘personality’. What kind of friendship is this? I wondered. And why is Miriam allowing her to perpetuate the fat-equals-personality trope?
Like I said, no real thesis, but, actually, there was a conclusion of sorts, even if it didn’t amount to more than ‘I Yam What I Yam’, as Popeye liked to say. She said: ‘Life is all relationships and I have a partner who loves me and friends who love me and I love them… it’s who you are that makes a difference.’ And also she said: ‘I’m allowed to be fat because my mind is not fat.’ And then she wandered off to eat an onion as if it were an apple. One hopes.
Breeders is the new comedy created by Martin Freeman, Simon Blackwell, the writer known for Peep Show and The Thick Of It, and comedian Chris Addison, and it’s about parenthood, as was Motherland, as was Catastrophe, but this is blacker, darker, swearier.
Daisy Haggard and Martin Freeman in Breeders.It’s about parenthood, as was Motherland , as was Catastrophe, but this is blacker, darker, swearier
It opens with Paul (Freeman) trying to work from home, but his two young children are making a racket from above so he charges upstairs while trying to talk himself out of what he’s about to do: ‘Don’t do this mate… don’t do it… it doesn’t help… you’ll hate yourself…’ He opens their bedroom door and now he’s shouting: ‘Jesus f-ing Christ how many times do I have to tell you to be quiet? You think I’ll put up with this? I’ll f-ing go… Sorry. I didn’t mean any of that. Sorry. Sorry.’ You do sort of admire it for going this far, but on the other hand… they’re just kids!
If I could migrate the whole of my personality and face on to another body, I’d be delighted
This is well performed by Freeman, and also Daisy Haggard, who plays his wife, Ally, and there are some fine, relatable moments, as when Ally reads out The Very Hungry Caterpillar on autopilot in her sleep, and there are some smart lines. We’ll get through it, Ally tells a friend, ‘because Paul and I love each other very, very… probably.’
But the anger directed at the children is hard to stomach – at one point he calls them the C-word – and also you do think: you live in a fabulously stylish house. You have good jobs. It’s you who needs to grow up. But it is brave, and while I couldn’t have recited The Very Hungry Caterpillar in my sleep, I could do We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. So also there is that.