Death And Nightingales
Secret Life Of Farm Animals
A little quiz for you. So what do the current mainstream dramas Mrs Wilson, My Brilliant Friend, Death And Nightingales and The Little Drummer Girl, which concluded this week, have in common? Is it:
A) Labourers in 19th-century Ireland distracting you with their beautifully laundered crisp white shirts as worn in the field?
B) Major characters talking the plot points out loud?
Ann Skelly and Jamie Dornan in Death And Nightingales. It kicked off last week with an underwhelming first episode
C) They are all about women as victims of men? The answer is ‘C’, as ‘A’ and ‘B’ afflict Death And Nightingales solely. Mrs Wilson discovers she has married a bigamist. Elena and Lila in My Brilliant Friend must fight off dominating suitors, fathers, brothers (‘I am your big brother. Do what I say. I could punch your head in.’) and Don Sarratore, who reads his own poetry aloud, which would be insanely terrible enough, but he also sexually assaults Elena. (That single tear running down her expressionless face…) With The Little Drummer Girl, Charlie was manipulated by Gloomy Gadi and the other Israeli spies to the extent of having to have sex with Khalil. But you may well have been spared this as I think it was only me and the dog watching the series by the end. (‘I liked it,’ says the dog. ‘I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but still I liked it. It was stylish.’)
Hard to say if this is the way the world is – as Mrs Wilson is based on a true story, you could think that – or whether there’s some truth to it, but not to the extent it appears to have become such a go-to TV trope. Either way, the cumulative effect is wearying. What woman shall we watch being done over by men this week? You could argue, I suppose, that Beth in Death And Nightingales is trying to take matters into her own hands, but it’s men who have brought about the situation she finds herself in.
This is the three-part adaptation of Eugene McCabe’s novel featuring young Beth Winters (Ann Skelly), who dreams of poisoning her stepfather, Billy (Mathew Rhys), as he touches her in ways that are not ‘fatherly’, and running off with local labourer Liam Ward (Jamie Dornan), who is always attired in ‘A’. It kicked off last week with an underwhelming first episode that lacked momentum and relied too excessively on ‘B’. ‘I love it and hate it like no place on Earth. Tomorrow, I leave it forever,’ stated Beth, out loud, looking out to sea. That said, at least I could hear that. Did you find this very mumbly in places? I kept having to pause and rewind to catch what was being said, and even then it was sometimes impossible. (Alas, preview episodes don’t come with subtitles.)
However, this week’s episode was substantially more compelling. We still had ‘A’, and we still had ‘B’, and we still had to pause and rewind, but Rhys’s performance is fantastic. Billy could easily be a straight-up-and-down villain but Rhys’s portrayal is so wonderfully nuanced he brings us a complex man who wants to love but just doesn’t know how. He was last seen stumbling up to bed having taken a bite of a bromide-laced ham-and-mustard sandwich. It will end badly, we know, but strangely he’s the one I’m hoping will survive.
This week’s Dynasties, about the wild dogs of Zimbabwe, was undoubtedly the best of the series so far, and get this: they live in matriarchal societies. No being pushed around by men, although they do have other troubles. The crew followed two packs, one led by Tait, and one led by Blacktip, the daughter who now leads a pack of her own and was after Tait’s territory. It was bloody and brutal. It was dog eat dog. And also it was hyena eats dog and lion eats dog and crocodile lunges from the water and eats dog (FFS) while dog eats baboon. (I think I will hear the screams of that baboon to my dying day.) In one extraordinary sequence a lion tried to eat a dog but a buffalo weirdly intercepted. So it was lion eats buffalo. These dogs aren’t fluffy or adorable but they did grow on you. (Hey hyena, leave that cub alone!) And it was fascinating TV, unlike, for instance, Secret Life Of Farm Animals.
An unfair comparison, you might say, but domesticated animals are as worthy of study as any, and perhaps even more so as they live alongside us? So I was up for it, but midway through I had to check this wasn’t aimed at children as the narration was so juvenile. It was the farm in spring so it was spring pun after spring pun (sigh), and while there were interesting facts – pigs play, chicks dream, sheep have incredible eyes – the narration made it intolerable. ‘When it comes to beating snowdrifts,’ we were told, ‘sheep are unbeatable. All right, if we must… unbleatable. All right, if we must… unbleatable.’ Who said we must? Not I, I can assure you.
Parents wrangling with the post-internet attention spans of today’s children might be sceptical, but Jackanory hooked kids via the simple premise of a grown-up sitting in an armchair and reading aloud. Cap-o’-Rushes was the first story, read by Lee Montague, while other narrators included Kenneth Williams, Alan Bennett, Victoria Wood and Bernard Cribbins (below), who read a record 111 tales. It wasn’t all cosy chronicles around the fire: Rik Mayall’s gleeful rendition of a lad’s attempt to poison his nan in George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl unleashed a torrent of complaints, but it’s now remembered as a TV gem. Gwen Smith
Parents wrangling with the post-internet attention spans of today’s children might be sceptical, but Jackanory hooked kids via the simple premise of a grown-up sitting in an armchair and reading aloud