Columnist James Waller-Davies takes a look at this week’s television.
Book lovers always approach television adaptations of their heart-felt favourites with nervous trepidation, worried an over-zealous director would dismantle years of fond memory with a couple of ham-fisted hours of self-indulgence.
I must admit, with last Sunday’s Cider With Rosie (BBC1), I was one of them.
Laurie Lee’s memoire of his childhood growing up in the Slad Valley at the end of the First Would War is a difficult novel to adapt for television, but director, Philippa Lowthorpe, and writer, Ben Vanstone, pulled off an extraordinary piece of drama.
It was perfect in almost every way.
Starting with Timothy Spall’s voiceover as the reminiscing older Lee, the performances were superb.
Samantha Mortan (Annie Lee, Laurie’s mother) portrayed the whimsy and sad manic passions of Lee’s mother with a huge emotional range.
The younger teenage actors, Archie Cox (young Laurie) and Ruby Serkis (Rosie Burdock) revelled in the playfulness of adolescence. Both have huge potential and we’re sure to be seeing them again. (Ruby Serkis, by the way, is the daughter of Andy Serkis, the motion capture specialist actor famed for his Gollum)
Beautifully shot, nicely paced and with a traditional music score provided by violin and penny-whistle – instruments upon which Lee himself was very proficient – the technical aspect were a perfect complement to the performances.
Cider With Rosie is a hymn to the rites of passage of childhood in one of the last ages of innocence.
It is arguably the last great English Romantic novel and, finally, it has a dramatisation worthy of it. If you shied away from it, don’t worry, it’s safe to watch.
A drama that most certainly wasn’t safe to watch – and should have come with a health warning – was the Rugby World Cup clash between England and Wales (ITV).
My fingernails were chewed down to the elbows by the end of the match.
Its tension was excruciating, with a script that even if it had been written in Wales, would not have been believed there. I’ve watched the highlights twice since, just to check the result was real. It was the most one-sided match ever not to be won by the better team.
If Wales and England are to meet again in this World Cup, it will be in the final. In the meantime, the last fifteen half-fit players in Wales had to hobble their way past Fiji
England rugby fans have to endure a second fraught Saturday with the make-or-break match against Australia. There’s no drama quite like that of sporting drama.
The latest dematerialisation of Doctor Who (BBC1) is surely edging the Sci-Fi drama towards the end of its current run.
This series has opened to the lowest audience figures since the rebooted Time Lord returned ten years ago, taking an extra hit of one million viewers last Saturday when put up against the rugby.
The writing is starting to tire and the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, is struggling to hold his own against his more charismatic assistant, Clara Oswald.
Both, however, are being left in the shade by the charmingly malevolent female incarnation of the Master, Missy. If you’ve missed Missy, just think of Mary Poppins as a deranged psychotic.
Some of the blame for Who’s demise has to go down to the BBC schedulers.
Doctor Who is a family programme, best suited to a six o’ clock slot.
Putting it on at 7.45pm is too late for the younger end of its audience spectrum and up against too much competition for the older end. The Time Lord is running out of time.
In Food Unwrapped (Channel 4), presenter Kate Quilton travelled 11,000 miles to California and back to find out why some pistachio nuts aren’t open, proving on the way that there are, literally, no lengths to which some producers won’t go to blow a programme’s budget. Nuts!
James Waller Davies is on Twitter: @JamesWallerD