Brian Donaldson finds the notion of family values being challenged and the idea of good comedy being totally destroyed
Andrea Riseborough must have a thing about playing scary people. While she wafted in to view as a spectral ghost in the BBC3 pilot of Being Human (a one-off that was the subject of such a frenzied online petition that the show was eventually commissioned for a full series), she has now taken on the role of the woman who has haunted our nation ever since being forced out of office by her own party in 1990. And this 20-something actress has clearly spent many hours studying the mannerisms and speech patterns of the Iron Lady who entered Number 10 two years before Riseborough had even been born.
Following in the footsteps of BBC4’s excellent biopics of Mary Whitehouse and Hughie Green, Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley (BBC4, Thu 12 Jun, 9pm) •••• has a number of special moments with jokes about the tabloid futures of her children (Carol winning I’m a Celebrity in the jungle and Mark, her favourite, getting lost in the desert), her anti-Europe stance, and echoes of how everything and everyone took second place to her political ambition, even in the face of setback after setback in her long battle to win a safe Tory seat. Cutting short family holidays is one thing, but dragging your husband back from an African business trip because being a woman alone on the campaign trail is a vote-loser is another. Rory Kinnear is splendid as Denis whose marriage involved a lot of half-soused grinning in the background while Samuel West is great as a stuffy Ted Heath with whom Thatcher never agreed on a single thing.
But the most chilling moment occurs at the point of the milk-snatcher’s breakthrough into politics, finally becoming the parliamentary candidate for Finchley as she tears a strip off the sitting MP, played with old school tie glee by Geoffrey Palmer. In that scene, Riseborough’s intense research all comes good: the quiet threat in her voice, the cocked head, the glare, that thing she did with her mouth. Britain was about to be handbagged.
Despite Thatcher’s unwillingness to play the devoted mother (her joy at having twins was down to the realisation that she had done her life’s birthing in one fell swoop), her legendary spouting of family values recurs throughout the drama. Not sure if her particular vision of happy clans is shown off in Hidden Lives: Naked Parents (Five, Wed 11 Jun, 10pm) •••. This documentary profiles people who merrily spend their lives in the nude, a bunch of fearless parents who fly in the face of conformity just to bare all. The main question throughout is, what effect does this lifestyle choice have on the poor children? And what goes through the minds of teenage boys when they go round to a mate’s place and see mounds of ageing flesh rubbering around the house. But the key question for me was what happens when they fry food, all that hot oil spitting onto their tummys?
The main question reverberating through watching two new marginally hyped comedies is, why bother? On the back of the horribly over-rated Kath and Kim comes Australia’s next big TV comedy thing, Summer Heights High (BBC2, Tue 10 Jun, 10.30pm) •, a spoof documentary that takes place in a suburban school. Of course, you’ll feel that you’ve seen all this fly-on-the-graffiti-wall stuff a hundred thousand times before, but where it really falls down is in its central twist. Where the best mockumentaries work by at least making you believe in the pitiful lives of its subjects, Summer Heights High chooses to bypass all that by having one man at its core. Chris Lilley has not only created and written the show, but has opted to take on the three main roles of dull bruiser kid Jonah, self-obsessed teen girl Ja’mie and pretentious drama teacher Mr G. It’s ludicrous, pointless and, worst, not in the slightest bit amusing. A fate it shares with Back to You (More4, Sun 11 Jun, 9.30pm) •• as Kelsey Grammer returns to the sitcom fold with this risible affair set in a TV newsroom. He’ll always be Frasier Crane to me. Or Sideshow Bob.