Essays: Royal bubble-bath |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Royal bubble-bath

HANDLING his armour with the audacity of Moshe Dayan, Sir Lew Grade rolls onward inexorably to the very doorway of the House of Lords. His latest venture, Edward the Seventh (ATV), is almost certain to clinch the campaign.

Besides earning peerage-winning prestige for its originator, the series looks likely to provide innocent pleasure for the teeming millions, a group which necessarily includes your reporter, who loves this kind of mush for reasons locked away unexaminably in his lower brain centres. Everything repellent about ‘The Pallisers’ is attractive about ‘Edward the Seventh,’ mainly because the real life of the Almanach de Gotha provided a so much greater fictional charge than Trollope’s novels, which were limited to the probabilities allowed by his fructive but finally earth-bound imagination.

No novelist of the nineteenth or any other century could have dreamed up a cast of characters like the European monarchs, whose network of consanguinity was the last fragile bond holding a continent together, as a worm-raddled commode might be kept intact by a cobweb until someone opens a fatal door. With just enough power to be meddlesome, but too well protected to be held accountable, they were secure in their tenure and had nothing to do beyond perfecting their personalities — demonstrating, without exception, that to be larger than life is to be less than real. Our disbelief is therefore suspended in advance: we expect extravagance and could be scandalised only by its absence. The way is clear for every known cliché to doll itself up to the nines and come swanning on, so long as the swanning is done in style.

Style abounds. Locations, sets and casting have been smartly judged. The script is unashamedly packed with telling points. The acting is over the top by just the right number of yards. Annette Crosbie plays the Queen with a neurotically furrowed forehead, which nicely modifies the memory of Irene Dunne’s bland visage in ‘The Mudlark’ — the definitive Victoria until now. Robert Hardy renders Albert, her loving consort, whizz zer merest tinch of a Cherman eccent. Both are sympathetically portrayed, adding an extra angle (or, since this is soap opera, an extra fathom of bubbles) to their incomprehension of Edward’s frailness. I don’t have to tell you to stay tuned.

Elsewhere, A Legacy (BBC2) makes stately headway on its own account. Adapted from a Sybille Bedford confection which I admit to never having read, it is a ‘Buddenbrooks’-style family saga whose sepia-toned preliminary scenes around the groaning dinner-table might have been taken straight from Mann’s opening chapters, with senile patriarchs cocking a deaf ear to the frantic decibels of their bored progeny (‘THE. FISH. SOUFFLÉ. IS. RATHER. DRY’) while a future of dynastic marriages stretches endlessly ahead.

The background to the action is of a country uniting itself. ‘We are all Germans now.’ Outlandish Prussians click heels while the inner-German aristocracy flares its nostrils in distaste, but the alliance between breeding and force is an historical imperative: a rich situation, nicht wahr? Robert Muller, the adaptor, has done a good job of sugaring the expositional pill, helped by a shimmering cluster of high-intensity thespians. If ‘A Legacy’ is not quite as gripping as ‘Edward the Seventh,’ the reason is as previously stated: creative tact has made the characters too normal.

To short-circuit that crippling reasonableness takes the insanity of genius. Showing how it’s done, The Brothers (BBC1) is back, after a long lay-off which seems to have included a comprehensive purge of the leading characters, the hammer-blows falling mainly among the women. The first of the new episodes was evocatively entitled ‘Life Goes On’ and showed Brian being granted a divorce from his musky, bra-less wife Anne, whose absence will arouse a pang of regret in the trousers of many viewers. Brian’s recent election to Managing Director looks doomed to be undone: a Pierre Bezhukov of the boardroom, he is unmanned by angst and has perhaps already hit the bottle a more than glancing blow.

David’s wife, Jill, has somehow become dead. He is wont to gaze soulfully at her photograph and refer elliptically to his loss when chatting with Mrs Hammond — by now embroidering her millionth acre of cloth — but the nature of the tragedy we have not as yet been vouchsafed. My own guess is that the actress was shot while trying to escape.

Meanwhile a merchant-banking whizz-kid straight out of ‘The Venturers’ has impinged on the scene with intent to take over the firm by charm and guile. With Brian demoralised, David in a trance of grief and Edward increasingly catatonic at the prospect of playing in the series until Hell freezes over, it is hard to see how the Clan Hammond will muster enough combative energy to stave off defeat. Already there have been broad hints that humble truck-driving Bill Riley, man of the people, might be slated for the top.

Julian Pettifer fronted a good Panorama (BBC1) from Vietnam. There was thought-provoking footage of the Saigon jet-set getting in some eleventh-hour fancy footwork at a high-tariff alfresco disco. Pettifer wisely pointed out that it was these pampered cretins, and not children, who most needed to be flown out of the crucible, although I hope he wasn’t implying that the innocent had nothing to fear. From totalitarians of whatever stamp, the innocent have everything to fear. An Omnibus (BBC1) on Nijinsky vainly strove to ‘reflect the workings of his mind.’ His mind was a lot more interesting than that.

In the Grand National (Grandstand, BBC1), Red Rum and the News of the World were both oversold. ‘When you say he was subdued, in what sense?’ David Coleman asked Red Rum’s trainer. ‘Didn’t you say the horse was a bit subdued this morning, Brian?’ he asked Red Rum’s jockey. If he’d asked Red Rum, he would have got the word from the horse’s mouth — which was that the poor jade was shagged out from being filmed. So finally it was L’Escargot who got to meet ‘Mrs Anna Murdoch, wife of the Chairman of the News of the World, promoting, er sponsoring, company today.’ ‘On behalf of the News of the World,’ Mrs Murdoch began, but I didn’t let her finish.

The Observer, 13th April 1975