Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World (BBC One) | iPlayer
Too Close (ITV) | ITV Hub
Leonardo (Amazon Prime)
All That Glitters (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Frank of Ireland (Channel 4) | All 4
Not one week semi-out of lockdown, half a crack of light, and we’re already caught in rows over deference, and a BBC row entirely of its own making, and not one but three programmes reminding us how the planet’s off to hell in a burning handcart. Not complaining, as such; I just might have liked a few days off to smell the coffee blossom.
The most accessible of these was most likely Ade Adepitan in the Solomon Islands and Australia, the first of three shows in his Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline series. The host is simply such a warm companion these days, whether shifting ever so agilely from his wheelchair to lie on the sand, eye level with the baby turtles existentially threatened by being born 99% female, or charming his way into the hearts of grumpy sheep farmers, that you hardly mind the multiplicity of oohs and aahs, rather than rigorous scientific analysis.
The analysis was still there in the voiceovers, and surely such a gifted communicator’s job is, simply, to get the message across no matter what. And you could tell Adepitan was truly feeling for those so sorely affected by the bushfires, the farmers ravaged by drought (one interviewee was RIP’d in the end credits). This was as far as possible from an excuse for another celeb jaunt to the world’s groovy areas, and you could even take a little hope that the fires have tugged at the conscience of some citizens of the world’s biggest coal exporter (if not its government, bless).
The most gung-ho, preachy and partisan, and thus worst, was Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, which as the days go by seems to garner more complaints and refutations from people actually involved in the programme. Film-maker Ali Tabrizi, 27, leaves you in no doubt about his sense of mission; indeed, some of the ramping-up of how brave he’s being, filming while followed by Japanese dolphin-hating police and the rest, is a little wearing.
There can be little doubt that some of what he exposes – the number of nylon nets filling the Great Pacific garbage patch, the appalling waste of bycatch, the timid non-enforcement of marine conservation zones – is crucial to know. Yet many of these problems have been written about before, and are well known to marine professionals working in a complex and multidisciplinary race to balance the needs of nature with those of poverty or hunger. Consequently this was a little like an eager child who has just learned something new and thinks he’s therefore the only person with the right to shout about it. Plus, Tabrizi’s solution – for everyone in the world, everywhere, to literally stop right now eating fish, ever – is a little … absolutist, if not downright fishy.
I was surprised by how much I liked Greta Thunberg, and I’m sure a few other eyes will have been opened by the end of the BBC’s three-part A Year to Change the World. Far from the ill-tempered Cassandra so often portrayed by enemies, the now 18-year-old activist came across as tremendously self-effacing, not to say possessed of immense self-knowledge. “People think I am an angry teenager who screams at world leaders. That’s not who I am.” Who she actually is we must wait a little longer to find out, but given that the BBC made this with her family’s blessing, and thus a certain partisanship, Thunberg appears to actively hate the limelight. Neither is she an immense fan of seasickness, as we saw all too graphically last year during that grim trip back to Spain on La Vagabonde.
There was a tour de force of female talent on show in Clara Salaman’s three-part ITV thriller Too Close, which ran on consecutive evenings last week; from Sue Tully’s direction to the acting of Denise Gough, Thalissa Teixeira and, of course, Emily Watson, and the whole thing was technically superb. What it wasn’t, or perhaps I’m just being too picky, was saying anything much new. A certain type of north London mother has it all – the clever marriage, the yoga, the ability to say “zhuzh something up” without blushing. Suddenly, unaccountably, she drives off a bridge with two children in the back and can’t remember anything about it, and instead spends two episodes worming her way into the vulnerable head of the psychiatrist (Watson) trying to help.
And that’s about it, apart from the wrap-up, in which, after much angst, all is rather fittingly and gently resolved. Trouble was, the psychological sparring just wasn’t deep enough, nor the maddening build-up of pressures – jealousy, faithlessness, medication, bereavement – which could lead to such an unconscionable act given enough time and space to gain heft. Perhaps it would have worked even better as a five-part weekly series.
Leonardo, the handsome new Europudding on Amazon, features, as these things must, clunking lines such as “Hi, I’m Leonardo. From Vinci!” and “Your career will go nowhere without the church” and “For you, humour is just something others do, isn’t it?” For all that, it’s a beautiful evocation of 16th-century Florence: those serried, marching roofs; the powdered paints of cochineal and cobalt; the lives lived in arse-grinding poverty below the Duomo. It also does a more than decent job of telling some of the tale of the younger Da Vinci, and how he learns to listen to light.
By necessity, I suppose, it’s telescoped into bite-sized chapters of a life – the sodomy, the commissions, the betrayals – and bears, at the start at least, strong resemblances to Amadeus: the tale told looking back, from a cell; the domineering father; the squirrelly, untalented, jealous traitor. Also, for that matter, an entirely fictionalised female love interest: was this simply to appease the heterosexuals in the audience? Aidan Turner makes a remarkably subtle and likable Leo, given some of the lines he’s been handed.
All That Glitters doesn’t quite gel. It’s straight out of the Bake Off/Pottery Throw Down stables, only for jewellers, and goodness knows there were enough wonderful skills on show, so why not? Sadly, I think it’s Katherine Ryan, the presenter. Alan Carr, Keith Brymer Jones, Noel Fielding, all know simply – it’s the very core of their personalities – how to engage contestants with both humour and stern empathy. Too often, Ryan just seems all haughty, if not snarky. Worse, she was airily wrong with the first task. “So many things to think about in this challenge.”
Actually, there weren’t – cutting a strip of silver to precisely eight inches, and being a whiz at invisible soldering. And her demand to “think like a white man, ie with arrogance!” visibly confused poor Tamara, mid-wrangle with a bangle, surely mystified as to why she was also being press-ganged into culture wars. Some of the results were beautiful, however – that Bauhaus stuff, wow! – and this can easily get better.
I don’t necessarily mean to disparage fans of the new Channel 4 thing Frank of Ireland (for those fans, “disparage” means “to mock”, “to ridicule”), but it really is the most tremendous pile of fossilised rhino turd, the very worst thing to have come out of Ireland since Mrs Brown’s Boys. Relentlessly and charmlessly unfunny, it relies on scatology and boorish sexism and feels like it was made in 1974. On a 1974 budget.