The Great Thing about the World Cup Is You Don’t Even Have to Watch It to Enjoy It

Plus: what the hilarious documentary about the New York Times really shows is progressives in crisis.

Harry Kane celebrates (image: Getty)

Even though I don’t watch much football I love the World Cup because it’s my passport to total freedom. I can nip off to the pub, slob indoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon, leave supper before we’ve finished eating, let alone before the dishes are done. And where normally that kind of behaviour would at the very least get me a dirty look, during World Cup season it actually gets me brownie points.

Why? Because it’s a sign that I’m being a Good Dad. It worked in the old days with the Rat. And now it works with Boy. Mothers are absolutely potty for their sons and will look fondly on any activity that makes them content. So whenever I slink off to the TV, wearing an expression that says, ‘You know I’d really much rather be strimming the nettles/scouring the roasting tray/clearing up cat poo but the boy wants me to watch with him’, I don’t merely get away with it. I’m viewed almost as a saint.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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More gripping than any scripted thriller: November 13 – Attack on Paris reviewed

What kept you watching was the desperate hope that a whole group would get away unharmed. Too often they didn’t

Eagles of Death Metal performing at the Bataclan theatre in 2015 a few moments before the attack by Islamic terrorists. Photo: AFP / Marion Ruszniewski / Getty Images

There were 1,500 punters in the audience when Eagles of Death Metal played their fatal gig at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in November 2015. By midnight, every one of those fans would either be dead, bereaved, in hospital with gunshot wounds or so traumatised that the horror would haunt the rest of their lives.

But obviously none of them knew this when they woke up on that sunny autumn morning (though it was a Friday 13th). One remembers that his first thought that day was to make sure he wore some nice trousers. Another recalls being puzzled when his father — ‘a typical Chilean dad’ — embraced him, asked him anxiously where he was going that night (‘I’m 23!’) and then said what now sounds eerily prophetic: ‘No one can steal your soul.’ The son replied: ‘I’ll be careful.’

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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Let’s be PROUD to be English

EIGHTY per cent of English identify strongly as English, says a survey on The English Question commissioned by the BBC. The BBC seems to find this fact embarrassing – on which more in a moment – but I don’t one bit.

Alamy Stock Photo

I think it’s something we should all celebrate, preferably with a nice proper cup of tea, brewed for four minutes.

Or better still, with a viewing of that marvellous wartime propaganda film I caught on TV the other day, “Went The Day Well?”

Adapted from a story by Graham Greene, with a score by William Walton, made, of course, by Ealing Studios, the film perfectly evokes what England, Englishness and English culture mean – and why we’ve fought so hard through the centuries to preserve them.

It is set in the sleepy English village of Bramley End (in fact Turville, Bucks), where every cliché is duly realised: long shadows across the green, the benign, elderly vicar, the manor house, spinsters on wobbly bicycles, the cheery postmistress, the crafty poacher…

Then the Nazi paratroopers arrive (disguised as English soldiers), only to give themselves away with their arrogance and the suspiciously continental way they write the number seven.

The villagers unite as one to repel the invaders – even if it means having to bludgeon them with a hatchet (as shocked Mrs Collins finds herself doing) or sacrificing their own lives for the greater good.

Though much has changed in the 80 years since – housebuilding, the decline of churchgoing, a less rigid class system – it’s still impossible for an English man or woman to watch that film without a shiver of pride and a smile of recognition.

Read the rest in the Express.

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Magisterial: BBC1’s A Very English Scandal reviewed

A Very British Scandal (image: Ray Burmiston)

What’s amazing about Jeremy Thorpe is that it genuinely didn’t occur to him that murdering someone might be illegal or immoral.

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little, so you can imagine how sickened I was by the magisterial TV adaptation of John Preston’s A Very English Scandal (BBC1, Sundays).

I’ve known Preston for years. It’s him I have to thank for the compendious collection of CDs rotting in my attic, from the ten years or so I spent working under him (he was the arts editor) as the Sunday Telegraph’s rock critic. But though I’ve hugely enjoyed all his quirky, low-key, sardonically amused novels — loosely on the theme of ‘quiet desperation is the English way’ —I never imagined he’d luck out quite so spectacularly as he has with this truly splendid all-star production.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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Which Now Unbearable TV Show Has Been Ruined for Ever by Political Correctness?

Plus: the joy of Only Connect lies in its absolute integrity and why Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is better off with Jeremy Clarkson.

Jeremy Clarkson (image: ITV)

Twenty years after it first appeared, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is back for a brief, week-long anniversary run on ITV —with only a few small amendments to the near-perfect original formula. Along with 50/50, Ask the Audience and Phone a Friend, you also get the option to Ask the Host. Given that the presenter is now Jeremy Clarkson (replacing Chris Tarrant) this is an option as risky as it is amusing.

As Clarkson cheerfully explained in the first show: ‘If it’s 1970s prog rock I’ll probably know the answer. If it’s anything other than that I probably won’t.’

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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What’s the Point of Philomena Cunk?

Plus: gritty, gripping Euro noir on BBC4 and a stylish new country-house whodunit on BBC One

Because I’m a miserable old reactionary determined to see a sinister Guardianista plot in every BBC programme I watch, I sat stony-faced through much of Cunk On Britain (BBC2, Tuesdays).

Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan) is a spoof comedy character who used to appear on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe and has now been given a full series. Though the character is amiable enough — a heroically thick Northern woman in a smart jacket who goes around Britain making stupid observations and asking celebrity historians dumb questions — I can’t quite work out what the point of the joke is.

Is it a send-up of dumbed-down Britain? Is it designed to make TV history experts look pompous? Is it Molesworth reimagined for 21st-century viewers who’ve never read Down with Skool!? Is it Ali G without the awkward racial element, which would likely never get past the censors now?

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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Babylon Berlin Is So Brilliant I’d Advise You Not to Start Watching It

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Image: Sky Atlantic

This TV masterpiece about Weimar Germany will eat up 16 hours of your life.

Babylon Berlin (Sky Atlantic), the epic German-made Euro noir detective drama set during Weimar, is so addictively brilliant that I’d almost advise you not to start watching it. After the two seasons to date you’ll be left feeling like the morphine-addicted hero Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) when deprived of his fix.

That’s because they haven’t even started making season three yet, so you’ll have an excruciatingly long wait to see what becomes of its cast of immensely captivating characters: Bruno Wolter (Peter Kurth), Rath’s corrupt, lying, whoring but affable sidekick; the treacherous White Russian Countess (Severija Janusauskaite), who dresses as a man for her floor-filling cabaret act; Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), the gorgeous flapper and occasional tart from the slums whose hopeless ambition it is to join the murder squad of the Berlin police; the Armenian gangster; Benda, the elegant, principled Jewish police chief; the sweet, Tintin-like student with the deaf parents.

Some of these characters, I should warn you, may not survive that far. Volker Kutscher, who wrote the novels on which the series is based, has a similar disregard for the sanctity of his characters’ lives as Thrones’s George R.R. Martin.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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David Hare Is the Kind of Second-Rate Artist Who Flourished under Stalin

His only real talent is toeing the party line – which is probably why his feeble detective drama Collateral, with its right-on politics, attracted such a starry cast.

Carey Milligan
Carey Mulligan (image: BBC1)

Shortly after my rave review of McMafia eight weeks ago, I got a long message from an old friend chastising me for being so horribly wrong. Could I not see that the series was boring, convoluted and badly acted? Was I aware of how many better series there had been on Amazon and Netflix recently because, if I wasn’t, she could give me a few recommendations…

Several other people wrote to me in a similar vein and I felt terrible. Life is short and TV production is so voluminous these days that now more than ever we need critics to sift the bullion from the dross. Sure, reviews are a snap judgment, usually based on just one episode and written under pressure. Even so, if you can’t be trusted to get it right, say, 90 per cent of the time, that makes you a critical fail.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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Is Britannia Really in the Game of Thrones’s League?

Brittanica
Britannia, starring Kelly Reilly (image: SKY)

The problem with Jez Butterworth’s series for Sky Atlantic is it can never stop smirking at its own irreverence

It’s a terrible thing for a TV critic to admit but I just don’t know what to make of Britannia, the new Sky Atlantic drama set during the Roman invasion of Britain, scripted by Jez Butterworth, starring a top-notch cast including David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker and Mackenzie Crook, and heavily touted as the next Game of Thrones.

Is it really in the Thrones’s league? I’d say not. You remember how Thrones started, all those seasons ago: the scouting party in the creepy frozen wood; the dead child with milky-blue glowing eyes; the shockingly draconian punishment meted out by Ned Stark to the party’s sole survivor. Within the first ten minutes it was all there: the gnawing tension, the ‘anyone can die’ cruelty and horror. But perhaps most important of all was the absolute seriousness. Here was a swords-and-sorcery epic determined never to sell itself short through flippancy or self-parody.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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I Wish the BBC Made More Dramas Like McMafia – But It’s Too Busy Virtue-Signalling

It’s at least as well acted, suspenseful and sexy as The Night Manager.

McMafia
McMafia–BBC

My third most fervent New Year wish — just after Litecoin goes to £20,000 and Jacob Rees-Mogg becomes PM — is for the BBC to retire to its study with its service pistol and a bottle of whisky and finally do the decent thing.

After all, as lots of people are beginning to notice, when you spend 40 per cent of your viewing time watching your £79-a-year Amazon Prime, and another 40 per cent on £96-a-year Netflix, your compulsory £145.50 licence fee starts to look like a lot of money to pay for the remaining 20 per cent’s worth of diversity outreach, anti-Brexit whining and green propaganda.

That’s why I was so very disappointed by the BBC’s first big New Year offering. McMafia (Tuesdays) is so brilliant that it almost disproves my point. It’s at least as well acted, suspenseful and sexy to look at as The Night Manager was. So far, it doesn’t look remotely PC. And, unlike its similarly classy, high-budget predecessor, it has the massive bonus of not being burdened by John le Carré’s weird, cartoonish, out-of-date geopolitics.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

 

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