Brian Donaldson finds that the schedules have an even more rancid stench of death than usual
Millionare socialist with a heart of gold? Or moneygrabbing wretch with less scruples than Stalin? During his lifetime, public opinion was heavily divided on Robert Maxwell, but history will probably prove to be less kind. In Maxwell (BBC2, Fri 4 May, 9pm, 4 Stars), David Suchet might lack the desired poundage to be a complete doppelganger for the man born Jan Ludvik Hoch into extreme poverty in the Carpathian mountains, but his is a heavyweight performance which tips the scales towards a marginally more sympathetic view of the Mirror man. Here, Captain Bob is a bow-tied mischief-maker with little time for family (his wife and entrepreneurial son Kevin take a battering) but plenty in reserve for his secretary (Daniela Denby-Ashe) whose rejection of her boss seems to lead him on the fateful road to that final bellyflop off the Canary Islands.
The League of Gentlemen once performed a sketch in their stage show in which they imagined a bunch of frozen polar explorers teasing each other with mutual masturbation. Mark Gatiss has returned to that arena by embarking upon The Worst Journey in the World (BBC4, Sun 29 Apr, 9pm, 3 Stars) in which he plays Apsley Cherry-Gerard (a real name, apparently), who was part of Scott’s team who took to Antarctica searching for Emperor penguin eggs, just two years before another Captain Bob went on the fateful expedition which saw him soundly beaten by Amundsen before perishing in the inclement conditions. This is a sensitive and stately piece full of arch dialogue about companionship and death and honour and all that guff.
The North Pole in the wilds of Alaska is Jon Ronson’s chosen destination for the last in the short series of Travels with My Camera (More4, Wed 2 May, 10.30pm, 4 Stars). He heads there to uncover the truth about the half dozen kids who were foiled last year from pulling off a Columbine-style massacre at their middle school, after detailed lists of their targets (which consisted mainly of jocks) were discovered. The overriding theory is that these teens had it up to their eyeballs with living in a town where it actually is Christmas every single day and where Santa permanently bounces toddlers on his knee with the paraphernalia of Yuletide hanging around 365 days of the year. In the light of the tragic events in Virginia, this is potent timing (and may lead to the documentary being shelved at the last minute) but Ronson’s film has him on top form when meeting the weird misfits who work in Santa’s grotto and the wired malcontents who knew these junior Grinches. Chilling stuff.
Way back in the mid-80s, Joanne Whalley’s character in Edge of Darkness was dispatched to her grave within the first ten minutes. In Life Line (BBC1, Thu 26 Apr, 9pm, 2 Stars), an equally early fate awaits her again. This drama is unlikely to be remembered quite so fondly 20 years down the road, being a tame psychological thriller about how people might not quite disappear from our lives once they are killed. Like the bewildered hero’s curtain-free and stainless steel-heavy pad, it’s all just a bit too polished.
Clean-cut is another term which would neatly fit The Last Detective (STV, Thu 3 May, 9pm, 3 Stars), which remains enjoyable despite itself. Starring the under-valued Peter Davison and Sean Hughes (who looks more like a ghost with each passing year), it concerns a hood called Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Vincent who winds up face down in his pool the night after being released from Her Majesty’s pleasure. And rounding off this issue’s mortal theme all too conveniently, DS Pimlott is played by one Charles De’Ath.