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Television

Relaxing with the ignoble

14 July 2012

6:00 AM

14 July 2012

6:00 AM

Unless I have slept through another of the year’s once-in-a-lifetime experiences — which is rather more likely than possible — the days since the Wimbledon final have passed without call for bunting, cheering, spangling or any other kind of cross-gartered preparedness. We seem to occupy a lacuna; to have swum into the eye of the 2012 Events’ Cyclone. Here we are invited, until the Games begin, to rest our flag-waving arms, uncross our patriotic fingers and reacquaint our senses with something other than Pride-and-Glory.

With immaculate timing — while Centre Court was still being put to bed — Wallander returned to BBC1 (Sunday). I never imagined, quite frankly, that I’d be so relieved to see a severed arm, a shallow grave, a shotgun, a sledgehammer and two barking Alsatians — let alone Kenneth Branagh in sensible shoes and a quilted jacket — but it was refreshing, even relaxing, to be reminded of all that is inglorious, ignoble, shaming and despicable; to be astounded not by the reaching heights of distinguished achievement but by the stooping depths of common depravity.

Watching Scandinavian Crime Thrillers seems to have become a competitive sport — a sort of Box Set Top Trumps — with scuffles in the playground over who can become the first and most devoted fan of each new release. The BBC’s Wallander was almost trampled to death by a stampede of its own fanbase, rushing to get to The Bridge/Borgen/The Killing. Since I am too commitment-phobic for five sets of tennis, let alone 20 episodes of The Killing, Wallander suits me fine: I relish the self-containment of each episode without any desire to be taken hostage by the tensions and anxieties of an ongoing saga.

Wallander is well written, strikingly shot and beautifully acted — as we would expect — and then it goes on being good right through to the marrow, in ways we appreciate without always noticing. The quality of sound, for example, is exceptional: in this episode, scenes on the night ferry throbbed with menace because of the artful mix of noise and music; the sound of that swung sledgehammer was more shocking than the sight of it; a sickening assault took place in a car while we remained outside it forced to listen, imagine and be horrified. Such unembellished quality makes the theatrics of a Blackout, or the posturings of a Line of Duty, seem rather unjustified.


I will be sad when the Olympics (am I allowed to use that word?) are over because there will be no more Twenty Twelve (BBC2, Tuesday), which means no more lines like this:

‘Sustainability is not about being popular.’
‘Oh, well, you might be all right then.’

But these characters (and their brilliant, vacuous dialogue) could be transplanted to any motivating purpose — every event from a village fête to a moon landing requires a team of people to obfuscate in an airless room. The only shame of Twenty Twelve’s success is that Jessica Hynes (as Siobhan) has been so congratulated for her performance that she seems determined to steal the show — she is now ‘doing her thing’ rather than playing the part. Hugh Bonneville, blank-faced and understated, knows that sustainability is not about being most popular.

I will also be sad, at the end of the Games, to see the last of the tie-in commercials from corporate sponsors whose products, although you might not have imagined it, have succeeded in creating the nation’s Olympic competitors. ‘It takes a lot of washing-up,’ apparently, ‘for Mum to make an athlete.’ An unarguable line — and yet slightly bonkers. Siobhan would be proud.

A string of documentaries on BBC2 (Faster, Higher, Stronger) investigated the history of the most famous Olympic events, and the first programme, which took as its subject the 100m sprint, must have exhilarated every couch potato in the land.

To watch the 100m final is unspeakably stressful, but to watch lots of different finals in slow-motion — as we did in this programme — is a delicious luxury. Each race was remarkable and so was every runner, from Harold Abrahams (leaping away from the pistol in 1924) to ‘Bullet Bob’ Hayes (gunning for gold in 1964) via Jesse Owens (floating over the line, as graceful and elegant as a deer, in 1936). Owens, reported an awestruck commentator, ‘didn’t seem to be doing anything remotely like hard work’ — all the more amazing when you realise that in fewer than ten seconds the fastest runners on the planet reach speeds which could earn them penalty points in built-up areas (traffic policemen take note).

Harrison Dillard, gold medallist in 1948, recalled his victory with a bashful grin: ‘The tape struck my chest and I thought, “Well, I guess you did it.”’ By a curious oversight he forgot to credit the washing-up.


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