Allan Radcliffe finds that, while reality doesn’t necessarily suck, it often lacks bite
The old adage that the truth is stranger than fiction appears more crucial to programme-makers now than ever before. While reality shows and emotive documentaries dominate the schedules, drama is in terminal decline. Even something that looks and smells like an original drama could well turn out to be a drama-documentary, as in the case of A Very British Sex Scandal (Channel 4, Sat 21 Jul, 9pm, 3 STARS).
Screening as part of a season marking the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the film recreates the landmark arrest for homosexual activities of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (Orlando Wells), a 28-year-old socialite, and his friend, Peter Wildeblood (Martin Hutson), the diplomatic correspondent for The Daily Mail, in 1954. The dramatic reconstruction is interspersed with contributions from gay rights campaigners of the time and eye-witnesses, including Lord Montagu himself. These segments, in which ageing gay men reflect on a crueller era in which they were mercilessly hounded by the press, police and blackmailers is compelling and frequently moving, but it’s hard to escape from the impression that this is two programmes welded together rather than complementary ingredients of the same cake. Moreover, the story might have benefited from a slightly more lyrical adaptation, lifting the events above the level of prosaic courtroom drama.
Nazi Pop Twins (Channel 4, Thu 19 Jul, 10.30pm, 3 STARS) offers an intriguing insight into the unpredictable nature of documentary-making. Filmmaker James Quinn starts out promising an enquiry into America’s white nationalist movement from the perspective of Prussian Blue, the neo-nazi folk duo that comprises blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenage twins, Lynx and Lamb Gaede from Bakersfield, California. Initially the film delivers its prurient pound of flesh as the Gaedes are seen touring radio stations regurgitating their elders’ half-formed views on immigration and the innate wisdom of Adolf Hitler. But what emerges is an unexpectedly intimate family portrait as these Aryan teen worms turn against their pathetic mother-manager, April and monstrous grandfather, Bill, who joshes about shooting Mexicans and whose cattle are branded with swastikas. Quinn shows admirable restraint in simply allowing his quietly outraged camera to observe the Gaede clan disintegration at a safe distance, the detached narrator only breaking his impartiality to challenge April’s inarticulate mutterings right at the end. The piece undeniably makes for compulsive viewing, but in scrutinising this phenomenon through such a narrow prism, the director makes little or no attempt to get to grips with the root causes of simmering racial tensions. Nor does it admit to the fact that ugly racism is not confined to extremists and is regularly pandered to by so-called centre-ground politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
You might think that recent events would have rather busted the flush of another portentous piece of forthcoming factual television, The Insider: Britain’s Gambling Addiction (Channel 4, Fri 20 Jul, 7.30pm, 3 STARS). But the shrieks and shouts that greeted Gordon Brown’s hints that he will scrap plans for the Manchester super casino rather overlooked the fact that the government still plans to press ahead with its gambling act this September. ‘Reforms’ mainly consist of green-lighting 16 new casinos and loosening up regulations governing betting shops, many of which will be built in some of the country’s poorest areas. The film follows reformed addict Jake Brindell, who argues that this legislation, coupled with an exponential rise in telephone and internet betting, means that there are more opportunities for British people to become addicted to gambling. The UK is already unique in the developed world in allowing children to gamble on slot machines. While hardly revelatory in pointing out the futility of pumping money into slot machines and Ladbrokes online site, this still offers an eye-popping insight into the voracious cynicism of the gambling industry not to mention the lack of help for addicts.