Simon Hoggart

Uphill struggle

Uphill struggle

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I tried hard to love Elizabeth I (Channel 4, Thursday) because such work and effort had gone into it, but it was an uphill job. The opening scene, of a doctor examining our heroine’s vagina, was no doubt meant to be challenging and attention-grabbing, but it felt unnecessarily gynaecological. As Barry Humphries would have said, the doctor was just keeping his hand in.

The other problem is that we have seen so many depictions of these people and this era that they all echo round each other, with, for some reason, Blackadder the loudest.

The Duke of Anjou (Hugh Laurie with a comedy French accent): I muzz ask you ziss; are you minded to tek me as a ‘usban’, in all seriousness?

Or the Duke of Leicester (Rowan Atkinson, I expect): It would appear that the people have little stomach for this marriage.

Elizabeth: The Queen has little stomach for the people!

Why did I suddenly imagine her throwing up on her loyal subjects? It’s an impossible task for writers: if you make your characters speak as they actually did at the time, nobody would understand them; if you update the dialogue in the manner of Andrew Davies (‘Burleigh, I want you to roll out best practice in cross-cutting government — and don’t hang about!’), you’re in danger of sounding silly.

I gather that no one would ever have been seated in the Queen’s presence; they would have stood or knelt and not made eye contact. But Helen Mirren played her as a cross between Margaret Thatcher and the late Mo Mowlam, more informal than the first, scarier than the other. There was even an echo of Tony Blair in the line ‘my Parliament seeks words with us, and I must pretend to listen’.

Helen Mirren is a wonderful actor, and the scene when she raged about the loss of Anjou was affecting. But the whole thing was awfully slow, and it must have cost a fortune. One wondered really what they thought they were doing. I suspect they made it because the budget was there, rather than the other way around.

Love Soup (BBC1, Tuesday) was written by David Renwick, who also gave us One Foot in the Grave and Jonathan Creek, two considerable achievements. It was full of shocks. I was reminded of the Monty Python chocolates, including Crunchy Frog and Spring Surprise: pop the smooth chocolate shell into your mouth, and steel bolts spring out, piercing both cheeks!

At first it seemed to be just another amiable romcom in which, after amusing misadventures, glamorous yet vulnerable young professionals find love with each other. But this has a harder and more surreal air. The heroine, played by Tamsin Greig, is drawn to a handsome locksmith, who tells her that his elderly father was hastened to his death by a thief who attacked him in his own house, but who got off because the old man was too blind to identify him.

Hmm, you think, that’s a bit dark. Then you learn that the son has actually caught the mugger and is keeping him in a cage for 15 years, and you think, this isn’t a bit like Cold Feet.

There are also some very funny lines. I loved Ms Greig’s nice but dim colleague trying to explain that something is easy: ‘It’s not rocket salad.’ And the nosy mime who stands over the lovers, pretending to be a statue. This is full of odd, quirky, original ideas and experiments, and it deserves to succeed.

So, I think on balance, does Mike Bassett — Manager (ITV, Thursday), if only for its brilliant pastiche of a 1950s Pathé News cup final report, all flickering black-and-white, baggy shorts and the camera missing the only goal. ‘Cover your ears, ref,’ says the jovial commentator in an upper-class voice riper than Henry Blofeld’s, ‘someone just called you a “ninny”!’

This is as far from Footballers’ Wives as it’s possible to be. The characters have little money and no glamour, except the handsome young black player who learns more about tactics from the Guardian’s sports pages than Mike Bassett knows. Enoch Powell’s line about all political careers ending in failure applies to football managers, too. Even the greatest — Sir Alex Ferguson was booed last weekend — are essentially comic figures, which gives any sitcom a head start.

Monarch of the Glen (BBC1, Sunday) is back for its final series. With the principal characters either killed off (Richard Briers couldn’t stand spending half his life surrounded by midges) or else disappearing mysteriously, it has had more changes of personnel than Victoria Coach Station. It is a sign of the series’ enduring charm that several of the original cast members are to return for guest appearances; Julian Fellowes as Killwillie appeared this week.

It has become intriguingly political. One of the main subplots concerned a crofter, a nasty piece of work who employs Scottish Parliament legislation to buy his own land. He then uses it to harass the good Glenbogle workers, who know their place in what is still a feudal society.