TV blog: Arthur and George

Benjie Goodhart / 26 February 2015

TV critic Benjie Goodhart takes a look at this week's highlights

Review: Wanted in Paradise, Tuesday 24th February, 7pm, BBC Two

If you’ve never seen this show before, the BBC finds people who are thinking about moving to some overseas paradise, takes them there, allows them to experience it for a week, and then asks them to make a decision. 

If anyone from the BBC is reading this, I’m contemplating a move to the Maldives. And Hawaii. Oh, and I like the Seychelles too. And I’ve heard there might be a vacancy on Necker Island. Hmmm, decisions, decisions. (In truth, almost had a nervous breakdown moving from London to Brighton, so I’m probably done with that sort of thing…)

Paula Davis, from Darlington, has spent years dreaming about moving to paradise. And she doesn’t just mean Sunderland. She’s going all out. She wants to move to Grand Cayman.

Of course, she has the odd reservation, leaving family and that. “My brother lived next door. My dad lives a couple of doors up. My sister lives here. My nephew lives here. My sons live here.” Whoa! Well done for getting around to your sons, pet!

Anyway, now all she’s got to do is persuade new hubby Jason. It doesn’t look like a particularly tough job. He seems as keen as mustard. 

Right from the get-go, they’re both talking about ‘when’ not ‘if’ they move. It makes the big-decision climax at the end a bit of a damp squib, mind. A sort of “Will they-will they?” And lo-and-behold…yep. They will.

Mind you, it’s not difficult to see why. Back in Darlington, they might only pay £35-a-week rent, but having seen the house, you’re left with the distinct impression they’re getting the raw end of the deal. In Grand Cayman, they’re shown a house with its own private beach. 

Added to that, they calculate that, with the increase in salary, and tax-free living on the island, they’ll be considerably wealthier there. And there are even those who would venture that the weather is better in the Caribbean than the Northeast of England.

The moment Jason reveals their predictable decision to his heartbroken mother was marvellous telly, too. “We had to choose between family and paradise. And paradise won.” Don’t expect to find Jason in the Diplomatic Corps any time soon.

Review: Natural World: Africa’s Fishing Leopards, Tuesday 24th February, 8pm, BBC Two

Families, eh? Dad knocks up mum with twins, then walks out, wanting nothing to do with his kids. Mum raises them both as best she can. As the kids reach maturity, the brother starts to show an unhealthy interest in his sister. The sister is sending out signals that any male might pick up, and the mother feels threatened by her daughter’s raw sexuality. Not wanting to face such young and lissom competition, she kicks her daughter out.

With such melodrama, for a while I felt like I was watching Jeremy Kyle. The protagonists were all baring their teeth and fighting and wearing leopard skin. The only thing missing was a cynical, self-aggrandising prat in a suit goading them on and then shouting “This is my stage and you’ll do what you’re told!”

Fortunately, this was telly of a rather more edifying bent. The film was shot in its entirety by Brad Bestelink and a friend of his, as they followed a leopard family for almost two years. With only two people out in the field, the occasional key shot was missed, but the film had an air of intimacy and a simplicity that made you feel like you were watching a family video diary.

If you thought that being a leopard involved hanging around at the top of the food chain, lolling around on branches and occasionally hopping down for a tasty wildebeest or two, you’re much mistaken. Being a leopard is ruddy awful. Being a leopard cub is even worse. 

If the lions, wild hunting dogs and hyenas don’t get you, then another leopard probably will. And if that doesn’t, well, there’s always our old friend starvation. 

Although this leopard family has hit upon a neat trick – capturing the catfish that lie around poking out of the muddy shallows of the river. They are huge and fat and meaty, and present themselves as if they were on a supermarket counter. They really are thick.

Needless to say, the lovely leopard ladies have it toughest. The men impregnate them, then clear off to the leopard equivalent of a life of pubs and football. The mum raises the cubs, then boots out the girl when she reaches maturity, while doting on the boy’s every need. It’s a man’s world alright.

Continue to page 2 to read Benjie's previews of Arthur and George and DCI Banks

Preview: Arthur and George, Monday 2nd March, 9pm, ITV

The story, so the caption at the beginning if this new three-part series tells us, is based on true events. Which is to say, it’s based on the novel that Julian Barnes wrote about the true events. Novel, mark you, not factual book. This novel has then been rewritten for TV. So, essentially, it’s probably based on true events in the same way that Captain Caveman is a scientifically accurate study of the cretaceous period. 

I can’t say for sure how many liberties have been taken with the truth, however, because I can’t bring myself to look up the realities of the case. Why? Because I don’t want any spoilers. I have every intention of watching the rest of the series, which is rarer than you’d think.

Generally speaking, in this job, I watch the first one in a series, and then move on to something else. If I stuck with everything I ever watched, I’d spend my every waking moment in front of the telly, eating cake and ignoring my wife and kids. Which, now that I see that written down, makes me question why I don’t do precisely that.

Anyway, the plot follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, recently widowed and bereft, who throws himself into the task of correcting an injustice by clearing the name of a man called George Edalji, who served three years for the brutal slaughter of a load of livestock.

If the case sounds somewhat mundane (most of us, after all, eat livestock every day) it isn’t. It is sinister, and eerie and intriguing. The script is beautifully judged – by turns sad, funny and genuinely unsettling. Mixing humour and thrills is a surprisingly difficult trick (the former tends to cancel out the latter), but here it is achieved with aplomb.

Above all else, though, this drama boasts absolutely first class performances. Arsher Ali, one of the best young actors around, is customarily excellent as George, while his father is played by the ever-watchable Art Malik. Charles Edwards (the unfortunate Gregson in Downton) thrives as Doyle’s trusted manservant and Dr Watson-like foil Woody. 

But it is Martin Clunes, as Sir Arthur himself, who steals the show. Perhaps I’ve never been able to see beyond Men Behaving Badly, but I never realised just what an accomplished actor he is. He’s very, very good in this, and trust me, it’s well worth a watch.

To see our behind-the-scenes photo shoot with Martin Clunes in Arthur and Georgesubscribe to the March 2015 issue of Saga Magazine, or download the digital edition today.

Preview: DCI Banks, Wednesday 4th March, 9pm, ITV

Stephen Tompkinson makes a welcome return as DCI Alan Banks for a new six-part series of the police drama. I interviewed Tompkinson recently. 

Well, I say interviewed. It was what they call a “round table” in the industry, which means you have six journalists, all with their own agendas, all trying to ask their own questions to the intense irritation of the other five. It’s billed as a cosy chat. It’s more a fight to the death. There’s always a nutter there. Either a journalist from Cats Weekly who won’t stop asking the actor about their favourite breed of moggy, or someone from a philosophy magazine asking about Wittgenstein. It’s agony.

As a result, I can’t tell you much about Tompkinson, except that he seems very nice, wears slightly dodgy pinstripe suits, loves his work, doesn’t have a cat, and admires Sartre’s existentialist plays.

Luckily, I can tell you about the show. Well, I could, except you’ve already seen it before. Lots of times. Hundreds. Someone is murdered. Lots of people are behaving oddly, and everyone looks guilty. Then it becomes clear that someone definitely did it. Except, of course, they didn’t. Meanwhile, the investigating policeman’s personal life is in utter turmoil. It rains a lot. You know the score.

Not that DCI Banks is bad. Actually, it’s really rather good. Banks is refreshingly ordinary. He doesn’t have a ‘thing’ like so many TV detectives. He’s not got a vintage car, a gammy leg, a wheelchair, he’s not blind, or autistic, a vicar, or an 85-year-old woman, he’s never had memory loss, served in the army or been addicted to drugs. He’s just an ordinary bloke. He’s called Alan. He wears an anorak. It works.

The series wears its Yorkshire roots with pride – though I suspect this episode wasn’t sponsored by the Yorkshire tourist board. It’s all sink estates, power stations and slate grey skies, and everyone seems allergic to the concept of smiling.

As the opener is a two-parter, we won’t find the murderer ‘til next week. But here’s one guarantee: One of the protagonists works in a plant that makes meat for pies. There’s going to be more than chicken or beef in those bad boys before the tale is told. It’s enough to make you long for the days of horsemeat lasagne.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.