Sadly, it was one of the least viewed too – the only people who saw it were journalists watching in advance, as a last-minute legal dispute over the rights to John Braine’s original book saw it pulled from the schedules the day before it was due to be shown. The contractual wrangle is resolved, so – somewhat later than planned – you will now be able to decide whether this version of the generation-defining story was worth the wait.
Last year Jenna-Louise Coleman, who plays Susan, was known only for Emmerdale; since then she has landed the role of the next Doctor Who companion, which might draw in a few more viewers for this gritty, unsentimental drama of class divisions.
While Room At The Top was held back, The Paradise, a new series about a Victorian department store, was reportedly brought forward a few months, in order to beat ITV’s upcoming Mr Selfridge (starring Entourage’s Jeremy Piven as the founder of Selfridges). After their revival of Upstairs Downstairs was thoroughly trampled by the Downton Abbey juggernaut, clearly the BBC don’t want to take any chances that there might not be enough demand for two series about big shops squeezing little shops out of business, topical as it is.
Unfortunately, The Paradise might be first, but it’s also as dull as doing an online grocery shop and painstakingly clicking through 15 types of loo roll. Loosely based on an Emile Zola novel, it has lost its subtleties en route from Paris to the North of England. The script is by Bill Gallagher, who was also responsible for the mind-numbing Lark Rise To Candleford, although thankfully this does not feature Dawn French belching.
Though lavishly produced, with great attention to the frills and furbelows, sadly – like the items on sale in this new-fangled store – the characters are mass produced. There is a pretty new shop assistant called Denise, who is from Peebles – “I should never have hired someone from Peebles!” moans the grumpy head of ladieswear, Sarah Lancashire – who only comes alive when inspired to talk a rich customer into buying a frock. The ambitious owner of the store clearly fancies the corset off her, but may have a Dark Secret. Played by Emun Elliott, he’s given to hissing breathily in what is supposed to be a seductive manner but comes across as someone desperate for a throat lozenge. Midway through he invents the idea of a sale, which is painstakingly explained to us as if we’ve never heard of such a thing. Frankly, Mr Selfridge is probably still in with a shout.
The title of his show about the ups and down of human survival, Andrew Marr’s History of the World, is absurdly grandiose, as Marr gallops across 70,000 years of human history, from cave paintings to the present day. It makes Kenneth Clark’s famous 1969 series Civilisation look lacking in ambition: that only attempted to cover 2000 years.
Of course, much has changed since then, both in academic understanding of pre-recorded history and in television. Clark’s series involved him mostly talking seriously to camera, although it was, thrillingly, in colour; Marr’s bursts with snazzy computer-generated imagery, letting him walk through reconstructions and “freeze” timelines to highlight major moments.
It’s all very visually busy and, as is usual now, there are as many shots of his beaming face as there are of historical artefacts. Cramming in so much also means that this is bare bones history: Marr doesn’t have much time for nuance or developing a complex argument. It’s perhaps a useful introduction but in itself, doesn’t constitute an education.
The testers in Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial will be shown necking E on Channel 4 – all in the name of science, you understand. The actor and professional geezer Keith Allen, We Need To Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver, a vicar and a number of other volunteers are given pills on hospital gurneys, before having brain scans and getting their cognitive processes tested. It’s part of an actual scientific study the channel have funded, to see what the drug really does to the brain.
Jon Snow is involved too, but thankfully he’s a presenter: I don’t think I could handle seeing him repeatedly hugging Krishnan Guru-Murthy and telling him he loves him, man, no, he really loves him.
Finally, the most moving moment of the week’s TV may be in This World – Aung San Suu Kyi: The Choice, when the Burmese campaigner speaks of missing her sons’ childhood. At times this admiring profile elevates her to iconic status for her years of passive resistance. But here, we see the human cost.
Room At The Top
Wednesday, BBC 4, 9pm
Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm
History Of The World
Tomorrow, BBC1, 9pm
Wednesday/Thursday, C4, 10pm
Today, BBC2, 8:10pm
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Monday 20 May 2013
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