Aidan Smith's TV week: Mare of Easttown, Call the Midwife, Our Yorkshire Farm
A detective is woken in the middle of the night to learn that the body of a badly beaten teenage mum has washed up in a river.
Now, you may feel in need of a break from murder mysteries where the victims are young women - especially when I tell you that the tec in Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic) has the kind of chaotic and semi-tragic personal life that comes with the badge when TV is in charge of the passing-out parade.
But that crimebuster is Kate Winslet and she takes (over-)familiar material and, if it’s not quite spun into gold, then her performance is still a hugely impressive display of quiet acting made up of sad-eyed sighs, fatalistic shrugs and, really, not much more.
Inside she’s screaming: “How on earth did I get here?” “Here” is a cold little dot on the map somewhere in Pennsylvania though it’s not quite true to say that nothing ever happens here. The anniversary of an unsolved murder has brought pressure on Mare Sheehan (Winslet) from her boss. She’s teamed with a new cop who can’t stomach the sight of blood. Little old ladies phone her direct if they think they see a prowler.
There’s stress at home, loads of it. From her daughter, mother and an ex who’s announced he’s re-marrying and forgotten to tell her, then hosts a dinner party to celebrate, which prompts the bitter quip: “Since when did he f****** cook?” The only person who doesn’t give her a hard time is her grandson who asks her to rub his head to get him to sleep.
Yes, Winslet is a grandmother. She’s no longer Kate Winsome from Sense and Sensibility or Kate Windswept from Titanic but she’s not quite Kate Wizened because Guy Pearce’s washed-up writer tries to pick up Mare in a bar. She can’t believe this is happening. She can’t believe he’s opted to move to Easttown. “I’m sorry,” she says, “that’s too bad.”
The suffocating smallness of the place pairs Mare and the mother of the earlier murder victim as team-mates at a 25th anniversary basketball reunion. A famous shot earned Mare the nickname Lady Hawk. She hates it and just about everything else, too. Can she solve the crimes? Can she make world-weariness last a whole season?
So here I am watching my first-ever episode of Call the Midwife. There have been nine series and regular Christmas specials dating back to 2012. My wife loves the show but it’s usually my cue to leave the room. I suppose I’ve been like expectant fathers before they became “birth partners”, though without all the corridor-pacing and chain-smoking. What was I thinking? That Midwife was “just for women”? What did I want to watch instead? Where Eagles Dare - again?
Well, I stay to the end. Right through the birthing scenes - involving two next-door neighbours - and beyond. Now, with the saga having reached 1966, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s episode. The World Cup has been stolen. If the trophy isn’t recovered, that means England don’t win it, right?
Obviously, I can see the appeal of Midwife’s warm bath of nostalgia. Who this week doesn’t want to be reminded of an innocent, pre-European Super League time for football and the nation? The tenth season’s opener also has jokes about creamed rice and the Hindenburg. There are mentions of National Service, cine cameras and sewing patterns. Someone impersonates Norman Wisdom. Front rooms are called parlours. Softy, Softly - the Line of Duty of its day - flickers on TV. Better still, we glimpse again Sooty and Sweep, the great, glove-puppet Beckettian double-act engaged in their eternal struggle.
The struggle between the NHS and private medicine features. The nuns are cash-strapped so decide to loan out Trixie (Helen George) to a Mayfair maternity clinic where it’s all “silver trays and lacy pillowslips”. And as well as tender mercies, she brings feminism to women who’re too posh to push.
But those births. Oh dear. One ends in tragedy and I don’t mind admitting I was in floods of tears. On second thoughts, I’m just not man enough for this show and am going back into the hall.
A programme everyone loves in our house is Our Yorkshire Farm (Channel 5), though my kids hate me comparing their screen-centered slothfulness with all that gleeful romping across hilly fields by Clive and Amanda Owen’s nine-strong brood.
“But Dad,” eldest daughter said this week during the family fell race, “they’re probably working to a script and no one’s going to pull a strop in front of the cameras, are they?” Well, I can be as cynical as the next viewer about reality TV mugging or at least the subjects becoming self-conscious of a documentary team’s presence. But I don’t see evidence of that here.
From 16-year-old apprentice mechanic Reuben hammering race medals from tin to Clemmy, five, counting just-laid eggs in preparation for starting school, they’re sweet, spirited, funny and completely captivating. There’s something of the classic movie Whistle Down the Wind about this lot in the freedoms they enjoy in their vast, rugged playground - though so far in exploring ruined farm buildings they haven’t stumbled across a stranger who’s mistaken for Jesus, only a nest of baby kestrels.
I wonder if Our Yorkshire Farm will go like 7 Up with repeat visits to check on the children’s progress. Though who wants to see apple-cheeked Sidney, eight, ever grow up?
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