I SEEM to mention Downton Abbey a lot but usually to make cheap shots about poshos. Never mind, it’s surviving fine without my patronage.
BBC1, Sunday, 9pm
Game Of Thrones
Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm
Scott & Bailey
STV, Wednesday, 9pm
The thing is, I just can’t relate to the great, thundering manners-fest. I don’t know which spoon to use for the quince jam when there’s a duke present and it’s Tuesday – nor do I care. The Village, however, began with some scenes which did chime for your correspondent.
A schoolboy was ridiculed for being left-handed. I only had to endure mild teasing at my school but this was enough for my father, happening across an emporium for the corrie-fisted, to buy a poster for my bedroom with the slogan “You’ve a right to be left”. The lad in the drama was belted regularly and sadistically – I remember the hot, tight, tingly, numb sensation all too well. The lad’s old man sat down at night to a plateful of tripe – so did mine. The lad and his pals let off steam playing British Bulldogs, which was our game of choice, too. These were my 1960s. Jings, I always knew they were determinedly unswinging but it comes as quite a shock to discover they had a lot in common with grim, old 1914, the setting for Peter Moffat’s yarn.
Of course, we had running water; The Village (somewhere in Derbyshire) does not. The womenfolk, led by the brilliant Maxine Peake, use a bath-house and are spied on by the lad – show-stealing Bill Jones – through a hole in the roof. We on the other hand had Titbits and Reveille, our first “nudie books”. Forgive all the comparing and competing over hardships, but this show is so bleak that you’re reminded of how the Monty Python crew compared and competed over hardships, in the classic sketch ending with the harrumph: “Well, we got evicted from our hole in the ground.”
John Simm is responsible for much of the bleakness. He’s a farmer with a grim countenance and a grim scythe (John Grimm?). Dad to the lad, he’ll march into the school and order the boy back to the fields: “Should we starve so he can learn to write?” Swish, swish, there’s always work to be done. And after that, more work. The lad is in love with the new Methodist teacher, as is his big brother. She’s a suffragette, which amuses the ladies up at the Big House, although they’re posh and thick, a terrible combination, and when they failed to realise that war was coming you were reminded of another comedy sketch: Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s “Women – know your limits!” But I like The Village in a hairshirt kind of way –a costume drama for these triple-dip times.
No such qualifications required for the stupendous Game Of Thrones, now in its third season. I love the giants, properly big and sad, hammering posts with their fists right across the snowy hell known as Beyond the Wall. I love Daenerys’ dragons, no longer cute, which the albino queen-in-exile is schooling in fire-breathing. I love the scale of the thing (when someone said “I promised you 30 ships”, that’s what was delivered) and, being a prog-rock fan, I love the Roger Dean needle-rock landscapes. There’s more: the insults (“Soft mewling fool!”), the strong Scottish presence (Iain Glen, James Cosmo, Richard Madden and – don’t be fooled by the thick Lancastrian accent she uses for winsome wildling Ygritte – Rose Leslie, who hails from Aberdeenshire where her old man is a clan chief) and I love the show’s complete lack of big jessie-ness. When Daenerys went shopping for an 8,000-strong slave army to back up her dragons, the salesman – to illustrate the soldiers’ toughness – grabbed the nearest dagger and declared: “Men don’t need nipples.” Ouch.
But probably most of all I love the father-son relationship between Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). To call it complicated would be an understatement. In Tywin’s eyes, Tyrion is half a man in every sense. Indeed, his nickname is Halfman. Seeking approval for the umpteenth time, he’s told: “You chose to spend your days, as you always have, bedding a harlot and drinking with thieves.” This, though, is the quintessence of Game Of Thrones.
The third series of Thrones opened with a severed head, which is standard, and so did the third of Scott & Bailey, which was a surprise. Maybe this is Scandi-crime’s influence. Anyway, the Manchester policier was quickly back in the old routine, evesdropping on Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp in the station loos as they swapped notes on crap men. These two are great, although they defer in rank and greatness to Amelia Bullmore as the DCI. As a bonus, Nicola Walker played the prime suspect for most of the opener and she’s always great.