TV blog: The Moonstone

Benjie Goodhart / 27 October 2016

Benjie braves daytime TV to unearth a real gem. Plus the best of the rest on TV for the week ahead.

The Moonstone, Monday 31st October – Friday 4th November, 2:15pm, BBC One

I don’t watch a lot of daytime TV. This is partly because I have a job, but only partly. The other reason is it is, by and large, unspeakable garbage. At least, I suspect it is. I’m basing this largely on Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women, it must be said. But, by my thinking, if something’s not good enough for a primetime slot, it’s shunted out to suffer a slow death in the daytime schedules. Dying of under-exposure, if you will.

So I didn’t come to this new five-part drama series with high hopes. My curiosity was piqued by the idea of a costume drama in the daytime schedules, but I was expecting something where the sets all shook when the doors closed, the best performances on display were from the furniture, and more corners were cut than in a cut-out-and-keep circle-making kit.

Well, blow me down if this didn’t turn out to be rather good. The series is based, of course, on the Wiilkie Collins book, and is part of the BBC’s #LearnToRead season. (How about a #LearnToLeaveSpacesBetweenWords season?)

The Moonstone in question is a diamond the size of an apple, with a fairly hefty curse attached to it. It seems to have ruined the life of a fellow called Franklin Blake, whose erstwhile paramour, Rachel Verinder, won’t even see him. “I know she cannot forget me either,” he reasons, “or else she would not hide from me.” Yeah, I’ve been there, mate. Generally, it does actually just mean they want to hide from you. Mind you, you can’t blame him for being dogged – Rachel’s family has one sweet property portfolio.

Franklin journeys to another Verinder home, this one in Yorkshire, where he and loyal servant Betteredge revisit the events of the previous year. It turns out, things all started to go sour on Rachel’s 18th birthday. This may have been because she was given a cursed diamond… or it may just have been that her mother threw her the worst 18th party imaginable, featuring a couple of cousins, a twittering old Bible basher, the local doctor, and a middle aged explorer. It turns out to be the most toe-curling dinner party since Lord Grantham vomited blood all over the linen in Downton. Later, the diamond is stolen, which is basically the icing on the birthday cake.

A year later, Rachel has still got the hump. Franklin is determined to solve the mystery of the missing diamond – and all the guests that night will fall under suspicion, as will a mysterious and miserable housemaid who spends her downtime visiting a spooky beach where, she casually mentions, there’s quicksand. I’m sure that won’t be putting in another appearance in the series.

Anyway, the point is, it’s all rather good fun, and done with atmosphere, tension and style. Indeed, much more of this, and I might start having to phone in sick. Or, I suppose, record it or watch it on iPlayer. But where’s the fun in that?

The Gun Shop, Thursday 3rd November, 9pm, Channel 4

Battle Creek, Michigan, is an average town in middle America. They call it a city, in the typical bombastic American way, in spite of the fact that it’s the same size as Clacton-on-Sea. In America, they try and make everything seem bigger. But more of that later.

In Battle Creek, there is a gun shop, Freedom Firearms. This absolutely riveting documentary meets the owners and customers of this establishment, to find out what motivates people to buy a gun.

Freedom Firearms is owned and run by the Fulton family – decent, law-abiding, right-wing, with cropped hair, beards, and caps. Pretty much what you’d expect. (One of them, a youngster, has had a flirtation with Bernie Sanders, but is going to vote for Trump anyway. His father and uncle call him “the communist”.)

Gina is in buying a gun because she was threatened by a man with a firearm during a road rage incident. Her partner is fully supportive, having once had a gun pointed in his face during a bank hold-up. No doubt both situations would have gone far more smoothly if the terrified victims had been armed as well, right? The argument that bad guys have guns, so the good guys need them, is like suggesting the best way to cool down an over-spiced curry is to add more chillies.

Courtney is a student nurse, and a 28-year-old single mum (sorry, ‘mom’) of two small boys. One, aged nine, she deems old enough to come shooting with her. She says she depends on him to protect his brother if she is ever shot by an intruder. I just looked something up: In America, a child is accidentally killed every other day by gunfire, normally from a sibling.

According to the embattled local police chief, these people have a “God-ordained right to carry a gun”. I must have missed that chapter of the Bible out (I did tend to bunk off R.E.). More depressing still is the contribution from African American grandmother Arnice, who understandably feels the need to instruct her children thus: “Do nothing to provoke the policeman, so he doesn’t have an excuse to shoot you.” They start them young in America – both grandkids are under 10.

The Dallas police shootings happen. More concerned customers come in. The ever-present threat of terrorists is a worry. After all, who’s to say that when ISIS are kicked out of Mosul, they won’t up sticks and head to Battle Creek?

It seems like barely a week passes without a mass-shooting in America. Battle Creek has had its share – in February of this year, six people were killed in the town of Kalamazoo, 24 miles away. Three were from Battle Creek. There is footage of one of the survivors, a young girl, that is among the more extraordinary things I have ever seen on TV. It should be enough to make people think a little bit about the intolerable destruction firearms have wreaked on America. But then again, if Sandy Hook meant nothing, what hope is there?

The best… and the rest

Sunday 30th October

Humans, 9pm, Channel 4: The excellent drama returns for second series. Synths – human-looking robots, basically – are in every home and workplace. But what happens if they suddenly have consciousness uploaded to them?

Monday 31st October

Richard Parks on Everest, 7pm, BBC Two: The endurance athlete attempts to climb Everest without oxygen. I mean, not completely without it, obviously – he doesn’t have to hold his breath for a week – while accompanying scientists study the link between exercise and dementia.

Supershoppers, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Return of the consumer show helping viewers out with money-saving ideas. Halloween has never been so scary!

Dark Angel, 9pm, ITV: Remember Joanne Froggatt, who played the lovely Anna in Downton? Yers, lovely, kind, pretty Anna. Well, she’s back now, playing a Victorian serial killer, in this new two-part adaptation of a true story. Mr Bates would NOT approve.

Tuesday 1st November

Arctic Live, 8pm, BBC Two: A new series showing over the next three nights, featuring Gordon Buchanan, Kate Humble and Simon Reeve up in the Arctic Circe, chilling out with Polar Bears and whatnot. Penguin fans are set to be disappointed.

Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards, 8pm, ITV: Carol Vorderman presents as a who’s who of famous faces (including the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and Ant and Dec) come together to honour some of the nation’s most inspirational members of the public. Tissues required.

Wednesday 2nd November

This Time Next Year, 8pm, ITV: Feelgood reality show which follows individuals who make themselves a promise – to lose 10 stone, or have a family, or find love – to be achieved within a year. How do they get on? Who better to ask than the undisputed Queen of Schmaltz, Davina McCall? Rather lovely.

This World: Unarmed Black Man, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length documentary following the murder trial of a whiter police officer accused of shooting and killing an unarmed black teenager in April 2015, in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th November

Not much, to be honest. Maybe treat yourself to a nice minibreak?

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