Last weekend, I almost broke one of my cardinal rules, when deciding which TV programmes to watch. I paid attention to the previews in the Radio Times: fulsome praise for Single Father and faint damns for The Pillars of the Earth, from David Butcher. Normally, I read them and then ignore them, preferring to make up my own mind. In this instance, if my husband hadn't suggested that Pillars of the Earth might actually be good, I might well have given it a miss. 'It ought to be either a romp or a sweeping saga but it's neither,' says DB. Why ought it? Afterwards, it struck me that I get bored by romps and sweeping sagas in about equal measure. The Pillars of the Earth has - so far - kept me glued to my television, in a way that few other dramas have, this year, and the main reason is that it is a wonderfully involving story, beautifully acted, visually stunning, thoroughly well told. In fact it's just sweeping enough to be exciting but not so sweeping that the viewer doesn't give a stuff; just enough of a romp to be emotionally engaging, but not such a ridiculous mangling of historical fact that it challenges the viewer's suspension of disbelief. I love it and I love it most of all because it's telling me a damn good story, and I find myself sitting, enthralled as a child. Believe me, that doesn't happen very often on UK television these days.
On the other hand, reading Butcher's ecstasies about Single Father, I did wonder if we'd been watching the same thing. Don't get me wrong. I've been watching this and been entertained by it. Any new TV drama is to be welcomed. But this has been mostly because of the very fine acting of David Tennant and Suranne Jones, who could perform the phone book together, and still make you watch them. Did I find it 'grabbing me by the emotional lapels and demanding attention'? Er, no. And I'll tell you the thing that irritates me most about it. It's that they have set a drama in Glasgow, and not made it about crime, drugs and murders (two cheers). But then, they've chickened out, haven't they? They've deliberately manipulated the plot so that they can go to Edinburgh to make it picturesque,with lots of touristy shots of the castle, Princes Street Gardens, and so on, ignoring all the very real beauties of Glasgow itself. Shame on them.
More about 'story' in the next post.