Picky about telly
|Summer of Rockets starts tonight on BBC2|
Really, I think it’s often a question of attitude towards a time period, and strength of story. The ones I have enjoyed fall into two categories. First there’s stuff like Father Brown, based on actual vintage fiction. The storylines are true to the time period, not a modern story in fancy dress, and the main characters also act like people from their time period. (Within reason; no-one wants the dreaded Attitudes Of Their Time in the background to everything, but there's a middle ground between the prevailing racism and sexism of past decades, and making a hero/heroine a modern person in vintage fancy dress.)
The other sort of vintage-set dramas I’ve enjoyed are those based on a series of novels that give a strong foundation of character even while the setting and behaviour can be rather anachronistic. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Murdoch Mysteries are good examples there. Murdoch is very silly now and consciously revels in its anachronism to the point where it’s an enjoyable feature of the programme, making it a feature, and happily bringing in side characters like Nikola Tesla, Harry Houdini and Orson Welles. I don’t mind that because it’s acknowledged, and the way it’s done is unique, and the series’ main characters have weight. Ms Fisher and the 1920s-set Frankie Drake Mysteries have spun off from those shows, and don’t have the same depth; it’s as though we’re expected to accept their weaknesses because we accept them in the parent programmes, but the characters and/or plots that hold the parent programmes together just aren’t there. I could probably forgive the predictable storylines and cliched characters if the visuals felt more authentic; an intricate story would make me overlook the too-21st century aspects of the design*. But the two together is just too much – or rather, too little.
Summer Of Rockets, a miniseries written by Stephen Poliakoff, is due to start on the BBC tonight, and I’m looking forward to that, though I often find the endings of Poliakoff’s dramas a letdown as they start so well. (Dancing On The Edge was an exception.) It’s set in 1958, and is about a Russian-Jewish inventor and his family in Britain at the height of the Cold War. The BBC versions of Poliakoff’s work always have really high production values, so the sets and costumes ought to be up to snuff, and with Toby Stephens, Keeley Hawes and Timothy Spall on the cast list the acting talent is definitely there. It’s not going to be the long-term series I’d like, but if a miniseries is the best we’ll get, I’ll take it.
There are plenty of old novels – crime or otherwise – that would make great TV series. I’d love to see a new televisation of the Peter Wimsey stories, for example. Here’s hoping programme-makers draws on one or two of those for inspiration in future.
Have you been watching and enjoying anything particular of late?
*Hairdos. Always. LET YOUR HEROINES LOOK OLD-FASHIONED, TV PEOPLE.