Why Does TV Assume Everyone Is So Thick They Have to Have Everything Explained?

The Scandalous Lady W, a relentlessly 21st-century version of a great period scandal, spells out the social implications with a giant trowel.

My favourite moment in The Scandalous Lady W (BBC2, Monday) was when the heroine played by Natalie Dormer was shown being taken vigorously from behind by one of her 27 lovers. It wasn’t the sex that did it for me but the appalled expression on the face of Girl, who, with perfect timing, had just poked her head round the TV room door to see what the grown-ups were watching. She let out a little yelp of horror — and ran.

Which was rather how I felt during a lot of the sex scenes. ‘Do you think they put in this stuff for us? Or the women?’ I said to the Rat (over on a flying visit from Hong Kong, where he’s doing very nicely as an interior designer, thanks for asking). ‘Oh, the women, definitely. We’re much more Game of Thrones. Straight in there. Tits and arse,’ he replied.

He’s right too. You know where you are with Game of Thrones: pert breasts, heaving buttocks, with sex portrayed as men understand it — as a form of conquest and possession, or a jolly bit of rumpy-pumpy. That’s why you can safely keep your eyes on the screen at all times, unlike with all this female-friendly soft porn such as The Scandalous Lady W or Poldark — or the new Lady Chatterley, by the sounds of it — which just makes you want to hide behind the sofa.

Though Poldark porn — or perhaps it ought to be called Mr Darcy porn, because that scene with Colin Firth was the originator, wasn’t it? — is less visually explicit, it’s actually a lot filthier. As women’s minds are, of course. It’s about white linen shirts, bare male torsos and lush fabrics. Fingers creeping higher and higher up soft legs towards expectant, ahem, thighs. Lips parted in rapture. Terrifying, in-the-head girl-fantasy stuff. Like being forced actually to read Fifty Shades of Grey, which, obviously, any normal man would rather be gang-raped by the Samoan rugby team than ever have to do.

Not that I didn’t enjoy most of Lady W hugely. Natalie Dormer was wonderful, as she invariably is, with that slightly unconventional, almond-eyed beauty and the apparent intelligence and poise enhanced by that sleazy, knowing smile. And the Georgian interiors, exteriors and outfits, as sumptuously shot by director Sheree Folkson, were a visual treat. But I definitely got the impression throughout that I was being sold a relentlessly 21st-century young female version of events, rather than any attempt at objective social history.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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