Haven’t really got terribly involved in this year’s Strictly Come Dancing - the fact that everyone else in the family is glued actually means that it’s quite a good opportunity to get on with other things while the coast is clear. But, things have been seriously hotting up, so I duly sat down with a scone and jam and a large mug of tea and watched most of this evening’s semi-final. Wasn’t too bothered which of the guys got through – I thought they were both equally hunky and desirable (oh, and quite good at dancing, of course). Absolutely needed the gorgeous Alesha to be in the final, so hooray that she came out tops, and I jolly well hope she wins. (I'm still a bit peeved about Denise and Emma not winning, to be honest.)
But more than all that, there were Victor da Silva and Hanna Karttunen performing their latest ‘showdance’. Who could forget last year’s appearance of this amazing couple in all its leopardsuited thrillingness? More like a trapeze act or a magic show than a dance: ‘how did they do that?’ one gasped, blinking and rubbing one’s eyes.
Well, there they were, back again and . . . O.M.G! This isn’t ‘dance’ – it’s something else altogether and I’m not sure it should be allowed on air while young persons are eating their tea! Mesmerising stuff. The duo have a disappointingly bad website, with bad photos and an even worse video. There are some fuzzy clandestinely recorded videos on YouTube, but I just want to see that ‘dance’ again. To catch those ‘sleight of body’ bits between Hanna lying on the floor and then suddenly standing in mid-air – her (impossibly long) legs having performed some unfeasible 180 degree miracle while her partner twirled her effortlessly on one hand, with presumably some behind-the-scenes assistance from one or more of his interestingly tattooed biceps. Is this art or high-kitch circus? I really don’t know. But I could certainly watch it with my mouth unbecomingly open for a lot longer than the four minutes we were allowed tonight.
And so to Cranford. Ahhh, Cranford. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Cranford is a triumph – a total, 100% triumph – of BBC costume drama. Hardly any point listing the consummate performances, the fabulously authentic costumes and interiors, the telling reminders of the ever-present threat of death, the brilliant adaptation of three novels into a single narrative . . . one could go on and on and on.
I – yes, stiff-upper-lipped moi – was in floods of sniffing and blubbing from start to finish. That Alex Etel as young Harry Gregson . . . heartbreaking. The gorgeous, lovely, good Mr Carter, played by Philip Glenister – how I wept.
And of course, Judi Dench – surely our most priceless National Treasure (well, female National Treasure – Alan Bennett just pipping Humph to the post as male NT, obviously) – just perfectly perfect as Miss Matty, with her scruples about having to go into ‘trade’ but at least tea was not a 'sticky' commodity and would not ‘leave a residue’ – more sobbing from me. Gosh, I’m exhausted and dehydrated from all this lacrymosity.
And how many millions of miles ahead of the ‘costume drama’ on which I wasted my time last night when I decided it would be a good idea to catch up with the DVD of Becoming Jane . What a load of ineffectual nonsense! A romanticised ‘account’ of Jane Austen’s life pre-Pride and Prejudice, in theory it would seem to tick all the boxes – high-budget, big production values, top name actors, great locations, bla bla bla. But . . . several hundred yawns and a lot of anachronism-spotting later – I officially declared it a Load of Old Tosh.
Anne Hathaway is lovely, gorgeous and absolutely fabulous in The Princess Diaries, The Princess Diaries II and Ella Enchanted (and as a mother of two girls, believe me, I have seen these in the cinema and then ad infinitum on DVD). In such films she is perfect and utterly adorable. As Jane Austen, she really couldn’t have been more disastrously cast. She tries very, very hard – to an ‘aw, bless her’ degree. But . . . her winsome eye-rolling and shoulder-shrugging and stomping off with exaggerated arm-swinging . . . is not only, like, sooooooNOT early nineteenth century, it’s just, like, soooooo American. As are her looks.
And, please, if we're going to talk about National Treasures, you don’t really get more National Treasurey than Jane Austen. The Ultimate Englishwoman. Yes, I know Meryl Streep’s 'done English', and Gwyneth Paltrow’s 'done English' and let’s not forget Renee Zellweger, either. But they really are exceptions and Anne Hathaway is just not in their league when it comes to ‘doing English’ convincingly. She could probably do a very passable 2007 English, but she can’t do Costume Drama English. Sorry.
And if the poor viewer is constantly on the edge of her seat with anxiety that some American inflexion or other is going to creep into the heroine’s every utterance (as it often did, though she tried so hard, aw, bless her), then ‘convincing acting’ it is not. And if the viewer can’t engage with the heroine, then what hope is there? One is not drawn in, one is pushed out and becomes a critical observer, who starts noticing other niggling things – inauthentic costumes, hairstyles, anachronistic expressions and behaviour. And before the viewer knows it, she is picking the whole thing to tiny bits and getting in a big rage and counting the minutes until the whole wretched, artificial saga is ended. Frankly, the DVD ‘extras’ were more interesting than the film itself. It is such a shame that so many misguided mistakes were made in this production– which could have been enjoyable even while being recognised as the confection that, ultimately, it was. There were great performances from Julie Walters and Maggie Smith, among others, but they were let down by a very silly script, as much as anything.
Looking forward to seeing what the BBC comes up with in this week's adaptation of Oliver Twist - should be perfect pre-Christmas viewing. It's got Timothy Spall in it. So that bodes well.
No easy segue into my final topic for this evening. The children discovered a hedgehog in the garden at lunchtime. Moving, very slowly, in broad daylight, across the lawn. It must surely have been disturbed in a neighbouring garden and emerged from its hibernation nest. As quickly as we could, we filled a cardboard box with hay, carefully lifted the hedgehog into it and then buried the box, on its side, underneath a big pile of hedge trimmings etc. Will it safely go back to sleep again and survive the winter? Everyone's been instructed not, on any account, to disturb it. I suppose we will only know the outcome in the spring. I shall have to Google hedgehogs to find out more, I suppose. Meanwhile, all comments/suggestions welcome, but I imagine I'm right in believing that the prognostications are not encouraging?