TV COLUMN: The Last Kingdom, Jekyll and Hyde, Unmade Movies: Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness, The Naked Choir with Gareth Malone

Columnist James Waller-Davies takes a look at this week’s television...
James Waller DaviesJames Waller Davies
James Waller Davies

It was the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt this week, and though television largely passed good ol’ Henry V by, the rest of the schedule served up a bigger than usual portion of men bandying about with brothers and bashing each other up.

Adapted from the Bernard Cornwall novel and set in 872, the The Last Kingdom (BBC1) put the Agincourt historical boot firmly on the other foot and promptly had the English being stamped all over with it by the invading Danes.

The Dark Ages are rarely dramatized well. They have a tendency to sink into mud, soggy animal furs and caveman-like ‘ugg-ugging’ that they turn out like a parody of the Horrible Histories.

This BBC version has gone for a basic revenge narrative and some actors who speak rather than just grunt. That’s not to say they’ve done away with swords and bashing up – there’s plenty of that too and more than one severed head gets thrown down as a challenge. Gauntlets are just so Middle Ages.

Going out on a Thursday night, The Last Kingdom is yet another weekday treat to go with Fargo and Unforgotten, meaning viewers who are allergic to reality TV can happily switch the telly off for the weekend, safe in the knowledge that they didn’t miss anything worth watching.

Something you couldn’t have watched because it was never made was reworked in Unmade Movies: Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness (Radio 4).

I don’t usually mention radio, but James McEvoy’s performance as Marlowe in Welles’ unmade screenplay for Conrad’s novella was the pick of the week. Hypnotic and haunting. “The horror! The horror!”

Not a bit as horrifying as the 800-odd complaints, a pending Ofcom investigation and the week’s tabloids would have you believe was Jekyll and Hyde (ITV). ITV’s latest Saturday early evening drama has, if you believe what you read, singlehandedly traumatised the country’s infants and babes.

In reality, it was all rather tame. Set in 1930s London, with this Doctor Jekyll the grandson of the original, the evil alter ego Hyde is little more than an undersized Incredible Hulk in a morning suit and long coat.

This latest J&H has been reworked as a modern superhero genre. Just like the Hulk, Hyde might have some anger management issues, but so long as he’s bashing the baddies, no one seems to mind.

Despite all the fuss – which has been the best advertising money didn’t have to buy – Jekyll and Hyde could be the weekend family viewing hit of the year. It’s got the slot Doctor Who used to have before someone at the Beeb decided that the once family favourite should go out at 8.20pm.

Someone who’s absolutely not a nasty baddie is Gareth Malone, who must be the nicest man on television.

This week he encouraged the last hopefuls in the final of The Naked Choir with Gareth Malone (BBC2).

A cappella has come a long way since Henry V and his band of brothers sang Non Nobis Domine on the field of victory at Agincourt. All the finalists were superb, but the winners, The Sons of Pitches, have been a cut above the rest throughout the whole competition.

The six lads, who have the look of the archetypal gang nerds and misfits, can produce a quite incredible sound, leaving you listening to six but looking for another twenty, and a whole band to boot.

Their semi-final video offering, MMMBop in 10 Genres, quirkily covers the Hanson bubble gum classic – and it’s my tip for the Christmas number 1.

But what do I know about music? I just put ‘Hanson’ and ‘classic’ in the same sentence.

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