UNDETERRED by so much crime-drama landfill, they gave us The Killing. Ignoring the warnings that no one would watch a show about politics, they gave us Borgen.
Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves
BBC4, Monday 10pm
Liberty of London
Channel 4, Monday 9pm
Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve
BBC2, Tuesday 11.20pm
Unafraid of the risks involved in a joint production – the diluting of a singular vision, the requirement to even up the jokes at the other’s expense, possibly resulting in cross-border cliche – Denmark and Sweden went right ahead with The Bridge and maybe it was the best of the lot. Is there nothing these pesky, clever Scandis can’t do?
They can even make us watch something called Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, a title so clodhopping you almost shed a tear typing it. The words came right at the start of this Swedish three-parter as an old battleaxe of a nurse scolded her inexperienced colleague while a young man covered in weeping lesions lay dying. This was Rasmus who we then saw in flashback as a sensitive boy, a curly-haired adolescent with a faraway look and finally a graduate who left behind his tiny room (David Bowie on the walls) in closeted, rural Varmland for the big city. “Small, dark, provincial,” went the voicover, describing Stockholm in 1983. “Don’t they inject oranges with drugs there?” inquired a nervous Varmlander. Rasmus discovered himself in Stockholm, found love too and also Aids.
It’s Scandi-stereotyping to think of all Swedes as being sexually liberated – not 30 years ago they weren’t. The gay community existed underground, popping up now and then in the hope of being noticed by a cruising Volvo. Rasmus was taken under the wing of Old Paul, very camp and very funny: “Honestly! Cheap wine with raisins and they call us perverts!” It was at one of Old Paul’s parties that Rasmus met Benjamin, from a devout Jehovah’s Witness family, and you were soon wondering: which set of parents is going to be more shocked?
Maybe we wouldn’t tell the story in such a simple, spelled-out way. Perhaps we’d avoid the heavy symbolism. Back in Varmland, a rare white elk kept re-appearing and someone remarked: “People who don’t like ‘different’ would shoot it.” But a British production would be doing very well to turn out as sweet, sad and almost unbearably moving as this one.
There was more campery in Liberty Of London but this was dreadful: an advert for the store, nothing more. In return for free plugs, the workplaces featured in such docusoaps – and this follows Inside John Lewis and Inside Claridge’s – are supposed to roll out their biggest characters. Here we got the managing director poached from Bergdorf Goodman with the Peaky Blinders haircut, his giggling assistant, the receptionship fanfared by the MD as “like something out of Are You Being Served?” (she wasn’t) and other employees who were even duller and offered anecdotes that were even more boring. At the programme’s end (two more to come, unfortunately) the feeling was surely similar to opening a Liberty’s bag, examining the brightly patterned, highly expensive trinklet and wondering: “Is that all I get?”
I have to admit to never having shopped there and don’t think I ever will. That shouldn’t have prevented me from enjoying a docusoap about people with too much money and too little taste but I’m afraid I just couldn’t care less about super-customer Felix who’s furnished seven homes around the world in Liberty and employs a full-time shopper, Michael, to habituate the scarf hall. The dramatic tension was nonexistent (“Nearly 4,000 sq ft of selling space has to be open in just two days!”). The humour was unintentional (“The Tudor building ... ” said the self-appointed store historian, “ ... the mock-Tudor building...”).
Something of the real Tudor experience could be found in Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve. He’s retracing various pilgrimages, asking why we did them, why we stopped, why a few of us keep on trucking. The first film, again of three, began at Lindisfarne and ended in Canterbury, stopping at Lincoln Cathedral, where “from 1300 right up to the Tudor period, this was the tallest building on the planet”. I didn’t know that.
Lots of fascinating stuff here, and the usual boyish enthusiasm from Reeve who’s like a kids’ presenter but thankfully isn’t Jake Humphrey. And some of it was quite moving, such as when, on the M25, he bumped into Lindsay Hamon who lugs a 12ft wooden cross on a wheel. Reeve admitted that in his previous life, investigating terrorism, he’d grown frightened of people who “believed too strongly in anything”. He wasn’t a religious person, he said, although wished he was. Encountering Hamon, recently returned from a Berlin-Moscow epic, Reeve instantly wanted to protect him from anyone who might want to call him a nutter. That said, this was our guide’s exact greeting to the present-day pilgrim.