Homeland on Channel 4

Homeland on Channel 4

Damian Lewis as Brody in Homeland

So many things to post about but for now I’m thinking of Homeland, the US drama featuring Brit actor Damian Lewis that started on Channel 4 on Sunday.

I find Lewis an interesting actor. He’s not my favourite person to look at on TV but I always enjoy whatever he’s in. He definitely has talent (like he needs me to write this, he was nominated for a Golden Globe). He carrys off this American supposed war hero part without a flaw. The female lead Claire Danes actually won a Golden Globe for her performance in this drama as a rookie CIA agent who has been “dealing” with her issues via anti-pyschotic drugs since she was 22. I hope her story turns out to be just as interesting as Brody’s.

The Homeland plot revolves around a particular piece of contemporary American paranoia: that one of their own soldiers may have been “turned” by radical Islamic treatment and torture into a terrorist who is out to commit an atrocity on American soil. C4 is even running an online vote on the matter, such is the intrigue about whether Lewis’ character Brody is a friend or foe. For my money, at the end of episode one, I reckon he is a terrorist but we’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

Thanks to C4 for buying in this production. It made me miss Upstairs Downstairs on BBC 1 but I didn’t see the first series of that drama anyway. Amazing how the reworked classic has been eclipsed by Downton Abbey.

I admit I did get sucked into Call the Midwife and was one of the 9 million or so watching the final episode earlier on Sunday. In some ways it was middle of the road, mumsy, feel-good Sunday night TV. But you can’t argue with the lyrics of the closing song, “Why do fools fall in love?” And you can’t ignore something featuring Jenny Agutter. A part of me will always want to be her as Bobby in the Railway Children.

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Downton Abbey

Behind the scenes at Downton

Lady Edith and the Dowager Countess

Let me be possibly the last person commenting on TV to say something about Downton Abbey. The truth is I didn’t watch first series because there was something better on the other side (BBC 1). There is again this autumn because Kudos Productions’ Spooks is showing on BBC 1 at 9pm on Sundays and Stephen Fry is doing a programme about language at exactly the same time on BBC 2 so I’m spending my time catching up with those things on the iPlayer.

But Downton Abbey suits me, as it does roughly 9 million other people, on a Sunday night when I’m in the mood for its sense of history and nostalgia, sweeping gowns and brocaded drawing rooms.

I do keep catching my shins on the language though, like so many commentators before me. In one of the first episodes of this second series I was moved to look up the use of “chuck it away” when lady Sybil was learning how to cook and ruined some kind of sauce. It just jarred, but our shorter Oxford English dictionary does say the word chuck was probably used by workmen to mean throw or toss as early as 1593. God, it’s hard being a pedant on a Sunday night. Last week I tripped up over someone, the Countess of Grantham or lady Mary, asking “So what?” in conversation. ‘Humpf’, I splutter into my hot chocolate. ‘They wouldn’t have said that in 1916.’

You only have to look at this Christmas speech by our present Queen, the first televised Christmas message shown in 1957, and compare it to last year’s delivery to see how speech patterns have changed, even among the very posh. What we’re getting in Downton isn’t a true reflection of how people spoke at the beginning of the 20th century.

But of course true authenticity has no place on TV and almost certainly none in Sunday night ITV drama. If the actors in Downton Abbey delivered dialogue as people in country houses actually spoke at the turn of the century no one would be watching. TV audiences want a reflection of how they see the past and certain people of the past more, in fact, than they want the reality. The reality would be a bunch of very dull black and white films. Downton Abbey is colourful, beautiful to look at, moves along at a decent pace and just very easy to watch on Sunday evenings.

Spooks, meanwhile, is another matter. Thank goodness for the iPlayer; if only I could watch it on my TV and not my  laptop.

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