Anthony (BBC One) | iPlayer
Panorama: China’s Coronavirus Cover-Up (BBC One) | iPlayer
Prodigal Son (Sky One) | Sky
Escape to the Chateau: Make, Do And Mend (C4) | All 4
A Suitable Boy (BBC One) | | iPlayer
It was a gutsy thing for a writer to have done, was Anthony, and even such as Jimmy McGovern might have had his 2am doubts. To take the untold, might-have-been years of 18-year-old Anthony Walker, the real, sparky, clever, ambitious, kind black youngster so unconscionably ice-picked in a Merseyside park in 2005 and to imagine the small and the great goods he might have achieved had he lived.
Brave because it presupposes the many alternative years he might have lived. Always a gamble, playing with real people’s fictional lives. But this was, ultimately, a triumph, which will linger long. Partly through the subtlety of the writing and pacing, which left little but happiness happening before our eyes much of the time – a courtship, a wedding, a redemption – which could have been, in lesser hands, cloying, but that always had a frisson, some grit in the oyster: a harsh familial word here, a jealous swipe there. And this meant that we, the knowing audience, watching in reverse-timeline, were ever aware of the young man who had been lost, of his constant unselfishness and desire to see the best in all.
An astonishingly mature and convincing performance by Toheeb Jimoh helped immensely, as did that of Rakie Ayola as his mother, Gee. The real Gee asked (her friend) McGovern to write her son’s story, so it has the smack of truth. I have little doubt that Anthony Walker would have gone on to… much of this or similar. By the time the last five, foul, murderous minutes came around, the calendar flipping back without mercy, I was smack-bereft at what had been lost.
Carrie Gracie was our wise interrogative host for a very timely, if criminally too-short Panorama, the tale, as it said on the tin, of China’s cover-up. How Beijing was arguably – and the evidence is mounting, to the extent that “arguably” might become mouth-music, a footnote – two long months late in alerting WHO and the world to the virus spreading from Huanan market.
It seems now that Beijing and its laughable pronouncements were not entirely to blame: Wuhan itself had just lied and lied since December and hosed down the market with bleach, thus rendering the trace undiscoverable. Yet, as was rightly pointed out, Wuhan officials and scientists lied because they were in fear of livelihoods if not their actual lives. That tends to be what happens.
Star of the show was Prof Andrew Tatem of Southampton University, who had modelled mobile phone data on those months, based on inhabitants of Wuhan. Dear God but it was educational to see those tiny orange dots spreading, and so fast, and especially during Chinese new year, the biggest mass movement of humans each year on this planet. Which authorities had fretted about but not actually cancelled, less afraid of the virus escaping than of their own lies escaping. So many echoes of Chernobyl.
I’ve never been a fan of post-hoc blaming, the culture of vengeful finger-pointing, tribal crowing. But it seems to me that, rather than a ponderous lengthy inquiry that will stuff lawyers’ pockets, there’s a need for a short, urgent inquiry now to address the UK government’s own February mistakes (especially with a threatened autumn second wave), if only to avoid the shambles of foot-shootery that dogged the first.
People had eagerly awaited Michael Sheen’s Prodigal Son, for there’s nothing like a sharp, intriguing, psychological drama to hit the spot. Interestingly, this is nothing like a sharp, intriguing, psychological drama to hit or even have an outside chance of brushing with its clumsy cliched fingers any conceivable spot. It is a mess, a pop-up book with the Cow Gum coming apart in your hands.
Sheen, doubtless if ill-advisedly drawn to this as a homage to another great Port Talbot performance, that of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, is “the surgeon”, an infamous and feted serial killer from a grand New York family now serving oodlesome life terms. His son Malcolm is a handsome young NYPD profiler with understandable daddy issues who yet learns to visit pater in chokey to pick his brains on the intricacies of the criminally insane mind.
Thus armed, Malcolm – Tom Payne, frantically over-acting, though who can blame him with this material – goes out to solve crimes, in 45-minute chunks with ad breaks, with the inspired approach of, get this, imagining the crime “from the killer’s point of view”. What an original and fresh approach or would be had it not been the singular premise of half-decent detectives since about 2000BC. It’s just awful.
Sky Witness did something remarkably similar with Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector, which has just been (deservedly) cancelled after its first series – took a good film, from a major book, and chopped it into tapas-like tiddlers, allowing nugatory character development and zilch intrigue.
Most folk have much time for the grand Michael Sheen, who gave us one of our lockdown delights with Staged. But he bet the farm on last year’s Homeless World Cup, generously underwriting the Cardiff event, and lost a goodly acreage of it: it’s alarmingly hard to suspect he’s basing his participation in Prodigal on anything as noble as falling in love with the sheer quality of the script.
Escape to the Chateau’s Dick and Angel Strawbridge and their refurbishment over the past four years of their 19th-century French pile have been consigned to “guilty pleasure” status in some minds, but I suspect for many the pleasure is not so much guilty as “unalloyed”. Only the most snippy and lemon-lipped of souls can ever have resented them lucking into that 45-room faerie marvel and their exuberance, never mind their undoubted hard work, simply barrels their way into our hearts.
The latest incarnation, a make-do-and-mend kind of DIY instructor, might not be wholly relevant to some UK residents. I cannot recall when I last felt the precise need to knock down a 40-metre ancient stone wall, beside my moat, to create a potting shed, but doubtless it’ll come to me. Yet for all this, and for all Angel’s “mood-boards”, I garnered some decent tips and it’s utterly worth it if just for the French sun and the butterflies.
A Suitable Boy is lovely and promises much. But if it is not simply to become A Suitable Period-Watch for Sunday Evenings it surely should have been allowed to breathe for more than six episodes. Drop the book on your foot and you would be limping until Christmas…