What upset James Delingpole far more this week was the miscarriage of justice in Netflix’s The Confession Tapes.
The opening of Gunpowder (BBC1, Saturdays) was just about the most knuckle-gnawingly tense ten minutes I’ve ever seen on TV.
It’s 1603 and James I is on the throne. At the Warwickshire great house of Baddesley Clinton, a group of aristocratic Catholics, including Robert Catesby (Kit Harington) and Anne Vaux (Liv Tyler), are celebrating Mass illicitly when a party of armed men begins hammering at the door.
Quickly, the various guerrilla priests — a senior Jesuit Henry Garnet and two young acolytes — are bundled into hiding, two in a priest hole set behind some panelling, one in a chest. The search party enters, led by an implacable witchfinder-general type who pursues his task with sadistic relish and grim efficiency. As the priests cower, their terror palpable, the search party sets about measuring the house within and without to see if there is any discrepancy in the dimensions.
Its policy of eco-imperialism forces renewables on a reluctant but largely helpless developing world.
What is the point of the World Bank? You probably think of it, if at all, as a benign institution, a kind of giant, multilateral aid agency, whose job it is to bring liquidity to developing nations and help them grow out of poverty.
Until not so long ago, that was indeed its function. Created alongside the International Monetary Fund at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, the bank did sterling work in its early years helping countries like France recover from the war; and later, giving mostly third world countries the vital seed money needed to help attract investors to risky capital projects. Its multiplier effect on investment can be extraordinary. In 2013, the World Bank gave Kosovo $40 million towards building a lignite power station. This sent out the positive signal needed to encourage the private sector to complete the funding with another $1,960 million.
Amazing. Except that’s not what the World Bank does now.
‘Nearly always when you find a place as beautiful as Positano, your impulse is to conceal it. You think: “If I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it, turn it into a honky-tonk and then the local people will get touristy and there’s your lovely place gone to hell.” There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano.’
John Steinbeck, 1953.
Yeah, right. The sad truth is that like so many classic destinations, Positano, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, has long since been overtouristed almost to the point of ruination. Even as early in the season as late April, when the Fawn and I visited, the tiny beach area was almost unbearable. Boatloads of day trippers swarmed across the promenade, funnelling into the steep narrow alleys on a near-impossible quest to find somewhere to eat. At which point you might wonder: ‘Why bother?’
I know I keep saying that in Decline of the West terms we’re all currently living in Rome, circa 400 AD. But now, on TV, there is actual proof of this in the form of a truly appalling reality series called Bromans (ITV2, Thursdays).
Bromans is like a cross between Love Island and Carry On Cleo, so shamelessly low, tacky and brain-dead that it makes Geordie Shore look like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. Basically, a bunch of ridiculously buff lads strip off and participate in crap gladiatorial contests in which no one dies (thus entirely defeating the object), while their hot blonde girlfriends smoulder pointlessly in scanty outfits, and say stupid things like ‘I’ve gone 2,000 years back. I’ve never lived that far back.’ Then they have a typical cocktail party, just like used to happen in Imperial Rome, and — we are led to assume — shag one another.
What I like best about Bromans is its rugged integrity. There’s none of that relentless PC hectoring that Rod Liddle was rightly bemoaning the other day: it’s probably the most accurate reflection anywhere on TV of what young men and women are still really like; and because it’s all done ironically, clumsily and on the cheap it slips under the Guardianista outrage police’s radar.
Obviously, though, I’m not suggesting you should waste time watching it. Instead, what you need is your new favourite Netflix series, Suburra.
This government has a problem with its ‘magic money tree’ defence of Conservatism: it doesn’t live by it
‘I don’t think I’m quite as Austrian as you are,’ a Tory minister said to me the other day. And I knew then that the party is doomed. It wasn’t what he said so much as the way that he said it: in the fond, amused, each-to-his-own tone you might use to dismiss a friend’s enthusiasm for Morris dancing or Napoleonic re-enactment or dogging…
But personally, I think free market economics (of the Austrian or any other classical liberal school) is far too important to be left to wonks, think-tankers and out-there right-wing commentators. So did Margaret Thatcher. ‘Hayek’s powerful Road to Serfdom left a permanent mark on my own political character, making me a long-term optimist for free enterprise and liberty,’ she said. And so did Ronald Reagan. Asked which philosophical thinker or writers had influenced his conduct as a leader, he replied: ‘I have read the economic views of von Mises and Hayek.’
Larry David is both the tragic hero with whom you identify and the comical idiot whom you love to see humiliated – long may he go on suffering!
The best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm are the ones that make you want to hide behind the sofa, cover your ears and drown out the horror by screaming: ‘No, Larry, no!’ I’m thinking, for example, of the one where our hero attends a victim support group for survivors of incest and, in order to fit in, decides to concoct a cock and bull story about how he was sexually abused by his uncle. This, of course, comes back horribly to haunt him when out one day with his blameless real uncle…
But no, I shan’t try to elaborate, for the plots in Curb Your Enthusiasm are as convoluted as any farce. And besides, you should see it for yourself. So long as you don’t mind writhing in embarrassment, and wishing the ground could swallow you up, there really are few things more excruciatingly funny than Curb.
The longer this ‘Keep buggering on and it’ll go away’ narrative persists, the longer MPs can delay doing anything.
Not long after the Parsons Green Tube bombing, another of those viral, defiant-in-the-face-of-terror cartoons started doing the rounds. It was quite witty — a section of Tube map, redrawn in the shape of a hand giving those pesky terrorists the middle finger. But it wasn’t remotely funny. In order for humour to work it has to spark a feeling of amused recognition. This did the opposite. It said something that all but the most deluded among us know to be a complete lie.
The lie is that when a terrorist bomb fails to detonate properly and injures ‘only’ a dozen or so people, rather than killing scores, this constitutes some kind of moral victory; that Londoners — indeed Britons generally — now accept such incidents as ‘part and parcel of living in the big city’; that our mood is not one of fear, helplessness and apprehension but of cheery optimism and determination not to have our lifestyles altered in the face of terror.
The film franchise is perfect for those who miss the wit and eccentricity of old 007 movies.
There’s a thrilling sequence in Matthew Vaughn’s latest secret agent caper, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, set in the inevitable Alpine mountaintop retreat. So many familiar ingredients are there — cable car, Eagles Nest-style lair, machine-gun-toting heavies in snowsuits, etc — that you could almost be watching the next Daniel Craig Bond movie. Except you know you’re not because of one key detail: you’re wearing a big, stupid grin.
All right, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the recent James Bond movies. But I think we can agree that they are somewhat lacking the jauntiness of the Sean Connery/Roger Moore eras. Sure, Craig is great at looking moody, tortured and buff, and Sam Mendes’s direction has given the last two a depth and arthouse sheen far beyond anything Ian Fleming wrote. Where, though, is the wit, the cheek, the eccentricity that made those early Bonds so much fun?
One’s crabby and conservative, while the other is genial and impeccably PC. No wonder Jack and his dad Michael make such compelling TV.
‘Oh really I don’t mind. Whatever you want to pay me. I just want to do this job and I’m really looking forward it. How much were you thinking?’ says Michael Whitehall in an unctuous, good-natured, amenable voice. Then, in an instant, having been told the imaginary amount, he turns savagely nasty and bangs his fist on the table. ‘No fucking way are you paying me so little…’
Watching Michael Whitehall jokingly re-enact how he negotiated his fee for his son’s new Netflix series, Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father, three things become abundantly clear.
First, that he must have been a brilliantly effective agent (shrewd, tough, terrifying) during his previous career, when he represented such stars as Kenneth More, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench and (Jack’s godfather) Richard Griffiths.
Second, that he really should have been on stage or screen himself much earlier (he became a star only in his early seventies), because his acting skills, timing and delivery are immaculate. (He’ll hate the comparison, but I was oddly reminded of the scene where Gollum’s good and evil sides have an argument in Lord of the Rings.)
The Canadian detective drama is nothing but cliché and a terrible waste of a talented cast – including a lubricious Christina Hendricks
Tin Star, the latest Sky Atlantic drama, has a comfortingly familiar premise: Jim Worth (Tim Roth), an ex-detective from London with an alcohol problem, heads out to rural Canada with his family to start a new life only to find himself embroiled in crime, violence and personal tragedy far worse than anything back home.
It begins well. There’s a lovely establishing scene where Roth walks down the street with his new Canadian sheriff’s badge and everyone greets him, as people presumably do in sleepy Canadian Rockies towns like Little Big Bear, where everyone’s got time for one another. In the police station, his two junior officers have so little crime to solve they’re playing video games. At their suggestion, Jim heads off to the picturesque river nearby to fish for salmon and spots his first bear. Gosh, how delightful it’s all going to be: a bit like that gentle 1990s comedy series Northern Exposure…