TV preview: Barenboim On Beethoven|Royal Greenwich|Sex Story:Fifty Shades Of Grey

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ANDREA MULLANEY

Which is great if you like that sort of thing, and even if you don’t, it only lasts a few weeks, so knock yourself out slouching on a couch watching the world’s fittest people display their prowess and check our sports pages for coverage on that. Otherwise, I could resort to the 
worthy-but-annoying advice of 1970s kids programme Why Don’t You … (just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?) or acknowledge that it’s a great week for catching up on boxed sets of series gone by (future generations will no doubt consider Compulsive Episode Marathoning a sport – can you fit in just one more before your eyes stagger shut?).

But let us remember that three per cent. The makers of those unlucky non-Olympic programmes this week may be cursing the schedulers for throwing away their months of hard work filming and editing, but it does mean that shows which may have slipped under the radar have a brief chance to capture the attention of anyone wanting to watch non-sporty TV but who has lost the DVD player remote control down the sofa.

Take, for example, Barenboim On Beethoven: Nine Symphonies that Changed The World. In a regular week, this would be watched only by committed classical music fans who have already been following his televised concert performances of the symphony cycle (concluding earlier on BBC2) and who would like to see a documentary about his orchestra’s tour of China and South Korea. But this week, perhaps a few Olympics-refuseniks will happen across this film, made by Michael Waldman and Peter Dale, and find themselves surprisingly intrigued. There’s a lot going on: Daniel Barenboim himself, long an outspoken figure in the often-bland classical world, is always good value; the musicians are interesting, being the part-Arab, part-Israeli, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; and the symphonies were both an artistic breakthrough and a transformation of orchestras and composers’ way of working. Inspired in part by the revolutionary events of Beethoven’s time, they have been deployed to suit various political agendas ever since, so when the 9th Symphony – the Ode To Joy famously performed to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall – is played at the demilitarised zone between South and North Korea, it takes on a very particular significance. And then there’s the music itself, which is stirring, powerful and comprehensible even by the non-aficionado. The world of classical music can be off-putting, but by focusing on one composer and one aspect of his work, this film breaks down the symphonies into a more approachable chunk.

There is a slight Olympic link in our next non-sporty choice, but I’m allowing it because Royal Greenwich has a much longer history than its recent overhaul to host the Equestrian and Basketball events. The “Royal” part of its name is a new, official addition, having been granted only in February, but reflecting the area’s links with the monarchy for hundreds of years, while the “Maritime Greenwich” moniker is there to demonstrate its naval past. With the Cutty Sark now restored after fire damage, and a special choral tune composed for the Queen’s ceremonial visit, all this might sound like a tourist information film. There is an aspect of that in ITV’s 
patriotic-happy celebration of the borough, but the beaming presence of presenter John Sergeant – who, post-Strictly, is making a speciality out of “funny old Britain” shows – ensures this is a jolly and informative little documentary.

Finally, for those about to suggest that sports-heavy telly is a good chance to catch up on one’s reading, a reminder that there is literature and … literature. Sex Story: Fifty Shades Of Grey is a hastily-produced documentary about the latest bestselling phenomenon, which a number of silly people have pretended to think reveals something new about What Women Want, instead of being a barely edited fan fiction fantasy bashed out at speed and bought by exactly the same type of people as would have read Flowers In The Attic, Valley Of The Dolls, The Sheik or Elinor Glynn’s Three Weeks (which featured a commanding older lady educating an inexperienced young male lover, making it seem as if feminism has actually reversed itself in the last 95 years).

However, Fifty Shades is today’s bonkbuster and thus this film calls upon the likes of Pamela Stephenson, Brooke “Belle du Jour” Magnanti, the Ann Summers marketing people and a book club to give their reactions, while the book’s spurious links to S&M are an excuse to interview a smug bondage-loving couple (don’t expect any serious analysis of power relations – this is very much in the “ooh, it’s all just good fun!” mode).

Only slightly less shallow than the trilogy itself, this film at least suggests an alternative to Olympics-watching. No, not reading the book, unless you enjoy terrible prose and cardboard characters: why not rattle off a spurious tale of sweaty athletes and domineering trainers, throw in some heavy panting and sponsor-approved brand names, publish it online and make your fortune? “Fifty Shades Of Gold, 
Silver And Bronze”, coming soon.

Barenboim On Beethoven

Saturday, BBC2, 9.20pm

Royal Greenwich

Tonight (Sunday), STV, 7pm

Sex Story: 


Fifty Shades Of Grey

Tonight (sunday), Channel 4, 10pm