Sunday 1 March 2009

"Margaret", and other things...

The BBC are labelled as a "public service broadcaster" - although their position as such has been challenged by their advertising-funded rivals, and in turn the Beeb have turned to a more advert-driven mindset (despite not having adverts on their channels). More reality TV, more comedy shows like the others, more mid-afternoon boredom-festivals and more shit about celebrities dancing with self-obsessed judges.

That said, they do pump out more politics-related shows than any other channel - although the quality and impartiality of said shows does vary, if we're all grown up and honest about it.

They're in a perilous position as a public service broadcaster - the only thing stopping them from tipping over into the abyss completely is that they actually do put out some shows that no other channel would bother with.

Planet Earth is a good example, as is Top Gear, Newsnight, Red Dwarf, Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe and others - but I was sorely disappointed when BBC3 turned down Adam Buxton's pilot...the reasons why were daft, in my view.

Now then, Margaret, all about the fall (and interspersed rise) of Margaret Thatcher (UK Conservative Party Prime Minster from 1979 to 1990, the first and only (so far) female PM as well), seemed pleasantly balanced to me ... if a bit over-the-top.

Mercifully, the politics were kept out of it almost entirely, so we could instead focus on the people - and indeed the ruthlessness of the political system (at least during the time represented on screen here). Nicknamed "The Iron Lady", she was most definitely a stern figure - and indeed a woman rising to the most powerful job in the country in a literal man's world. The UK had gotten itself into a state and needed a swift kick up the arse - a thankless job that somebody simply had to do - Mrs Thatcher was that somebody.

We see a driven, relentlessly determined woman setting out to prove her gender not only capable, but equal-to-if-not-better-than the men entrenched in the system. We see her rise to power against the odds, and then a decade later see the makings of a political execution by her own party (with a rather deviously 'quiet in the corner' John Major waiting to swoop in and take the job that Heseltine so wanted for himself) ... needless to say, it was all quite dramatic.

As a result, it's played as a drama - at times it is over-the-top, perhaps even stylised (and apparently not visually accurate enough for certain Tory bloggers, such as the entertaining Iain Dale), no doubt due to budget, production and practicality constraints - but it's quite effective when all is said and done.

Or at least, effective as far as a televised drama can be. The truest picture will never be known by the public (same goes for all political stories), and the closest Jo(e) public can get to the truest picture is via a mountain of reading of biographies and period newspapers (and so on), and piecing it all together themselves.

But who is really going to be bothered with all that, except a dedicated student of politics? Exactly - hence, dramatisation. It's just down to the viewer individually to realise it is as such however, because I severely doubt the "Iron Lady" would cry in front of her cabinet prior to her ousting - in private with her husband, quite possibly, but not in front of her cabinet ... ... at least, that's the impression I would get. Likewise Mrs T's severity and drive are overplayed, to the point of caricature at times.

So if we, the viewer, dial the central performance back a tad in our heads, we can get a good impression of how it all happened - but that's all we can ever really hope to gain, an impression. Only those involved will truly know the ins and outs. How it did happen, however, I'm sure it didn't involve massive, growing grumbly "woosh" noises everytime we skipped forward or backward in time - a device so daftly stolen from Lost, that it becomes an absolute joke towards the end - the wooshes so invasive that you wonder if you're going to find yourself trapped on a mysterious island populated by attractive television stars.

As for 24 Hour News, to wind back to earlier in the post, such as that of BBC News 24 and Sky News ... that's a whole other rant for a whole other day. Suffice to say, 24 Hour News is mostly audience-chasing, surface-skimming, multi-issue-ignoring nonsense. "All the latest news in fifteen minutes, every fifteen minutes", as well as "Who does Brown talk to first" (both Sky News slogans), are the most damning descriptions of today's 24 Hour News ... in my view. As such, Charlie Brooker's Newswipe is a spot-on look at the 24 Hour News phenomenon.

To end on a positive note, roll on series 13 of Top Gear - the best thing the BBC has on the air!

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