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Good intentions

If you don’t mind — yeah, like you’ve any choice in the matter — what I thought I’d do for this New Year column is to do just enough TV for the editor not to want to sack me, then move swiftly on to the stuff my hardcore fans prefer, namely the rambling and shameless solipsism.

29 December 2008

12:00 AM

29 December 2008

12:00 AM

If you don’t mind — yeah, like you’ve any choice in the matter — what I thought I’d do for this New Year column is to do just enough TV for the editor not to want to sack me, then move swiftly on to the stuff my hardcore fans prefer, namely the rambling and shameless solipsism.

If you don’t mind — yeah, like you’ve any choice in the matter — what I thought I’d do for this New Year column is to do just enough TV for the editor not to want to sack me, then move swiftly on to the stuff my hardcore fans prefer, namely the rambling and shameless solipsism.

First, The Devil’s Whore (Channel 4). I know it finished a few weeks ago but it was definitely one of the year’s TV highlights. There were many things I liked about it, not least the immense shaggableness of Andrea Riseborough in the title role. The scene in episode one where she wandered pale and naked into an improbable lily pond (the series was filmed in South Africa: God knows how they did all those 17th-century manor houses) was, I thought, artistically essential. I would go on, but my wife sometimes reads this stuff in the bath and might get cross with me.

What I also liked about it — I don’t know whether this was deliberate or not — was that the whole thing looked like the trailer for a longer, much less interesting movie. Normally I loathe too-tight editing. It’s the curse of Hollywood epics — especially during action sequences of films like Gladiator — a low-down, cheaty way of trying to trick your brain into thinking you’ve seen things you haven’t seen. Here, though, its impressionistic paciness worked a treat but not being a drama-series maker I’m not sure quite whom to congratulate.

Peter Flannery, maybe? He was the scriptwriter (also responsible for the great and influential Our Friends in the North) and spent a whole decade writing it. Perhaps that’s why, even though it flashed by very quickly with no longueurs, you never felt you were watching something lightly sketched. Even the walk-on players seemed to have depth and hinterland; and it oozed a strong sense of period (barring the odd anachronism and historical liberty, which with things done this well we can forgive totally) without ever making you feel like you were being given a spoddish history lecture.

This last was welcome because if it had been a history lecture, it would have been bound to be a left-wing one. Well it would, wouldn’t it? Not sure what Flannery’s exact politics are, but the fact that half his heroes were Levellers — ugh! ghastly Commie whingers — and that Charles was played by the world’s greatest evil-actor Peter Capaldi gives a fair hint. Flannery rose above all that, though. In his version of Civil War England, everyone was either deeply corrupt and compromised, or so insufferably priggish and high minded that they were even worse than the corrupt ones. Whenever another main character died you cheered because he definitely had it coming in one way or another.


Hah! Enough TV and on to my New Year resolutions.

1. Make more money. Heaven knows how, what with the global meltdown and the print journalism industry in near total collapse, but I expect my best chances lie with the Obama book you see plugged elsewhere in this mag, or with Coward at the Bridge, which I promise you is an absolute cracker, at least twice as good as Coward on the Beach, with the most brilliant opening scene where our hero is stuck in a hidden cupboard with a 17-year old blonde Dutch nymphomaniac, while the SS are interrogating captured men from 1st Airborne Division on the other side.

2. Force myself not to read the reader comments below the online versions of my Spectator articles. It’s just so dispiriting. Yeah, I know most of them are nice but with one or two of them you do wonder: ‘Well, if you hate my stuff so much, why not go and read someone in the Guardian instead. It’s not like you don’t know roughly what to expect by now.’

3. Stop Googling myself. See above. The people who say flattering things, you decide are mad. The people who say unflattering things make you want to kill yourself.

4. Not get depressed. 2008 was one of my worst. Not quite suicidal but definitely getting there. Then there was the month I was absolutely convinced I had some kind of terrible wasting disease and that my life was over. I hope that now I’m through this bout of ultra-hypochondria I will have the good grace to appreciate how blessed I in fact am, and also, to remember when I become incredibly successful (see 1.) not to turn into a complete tosser.

5. Review a Sam Kiley documentary and an Aidan Hartley documentary. These guys are the real deal — Oxford contemporaries of mine who, instead of chasing the easy life, are risking their lives in very scary parts of the world to expose the suffering of forgotten people that almost no one in our pampered, decadent, can’t-even-be-bothered-to-read-a-newspaper-any-more-let-alone-watch-a-grown-up-documentary society cares about.

6. Do heroin. I’ve never tried it before. Might be fun. And necessary if 1. fails.

7. Write Coward in the Woods so quickly that I can take the summer off.

8. Give my daughter riding lessons so I can fulfil my greatest ambition — to take her hunting.

9. Have a big launch party, maybe at the Royal Hospital, to which all my second world war chums will be invited. Few things make me happier than to know that these wonderful old boys and girls are my friends. They are the greatest generation.

10. Drop an E. It’s been ages and I’m getting nostalgic for my lost youth.


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