CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: There’s little magic in the creaky and preachy His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials
The Trials Of Oscar Pistorius
Sunday teatime, long ago, used to be the time for really dreadful children’s drama.
Stilted actors in period costumes performed stories with a religious message that Auntie deemed improving for our young minds.
His Dark Materials (BBC1) is carrying on that grand tradition.
This big-budget serial, based on the novels by achingly Left-wing moraliser Philip Pullman, is meant to be family viewing with the emphasis on a teen audience.
Sunday teatime, long ago, used to be the time for really dreadful children’s drama. His Dark Materials (BBC1) is carrying on that grand tradition (pictured)
Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson are adolescent heroes Lyra and Will, saving parallel worlds from the cruel, cynical grown-ups.
But it’s hard to imagine any teenage fan of fantasy adventure, raised on Star Wars and superhero movies, sitting through even ten minutes of this coalescing sludge.
Dafne Keen (pictured) is adolescent hero Lyra saving parallel worlds from the cruel, cynical grown-ups
It’s agonisingly slow and stagey. Every scene is static, as if the computer graphics might fall apart if the cast move around too much.
Screenwriter Jack Thorne’s adaptation tries slavishly to cram in all the books’ philosophising, which can only be done if characters talk endlessly. There’s almost no action in this adventure.
One set piece had a coven of witches in an immobile circle, like a school Shakespeare production.
When they had argued themselves into a stupor, the watching hawks and ravens took over, little puppet beaks clicking.
Most of the scenes were clearly shot in a studio. All that expensive CGI simply gives us a better quality of cardboard backdrops.
His Dark Materials is meant to be redolent of Narnia and The Lord Of The Rings, but both the plot and the scenery are so creaky that it’s closer to 1980s-era Doctor Who.
I kept expecting Sylvester McCoy to leap out in his straw hat and tartan scarf, and blow a raspberry at wicked Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson).
Mrs C was busy torturing one of the witches to death with a pair of tweezers, which explains why this children’s fare was on at 8pm — suitable neither for afternoon viewing nor after the watershed, it had to go out in the Antiques Roadshow slot instead.
There’s a particular nastiness in airing Pullman’s atheist rants on Sunday evenings.
The real villains of his tale are the bloated monks and sadistic ghouls of the Magesterium, a thin metaphor for the Church.
Perhaps BBC bosses genuinely think Christianity is so sidelined in this country now that no one could possibly be offended.
Equally inappropriate was the celebration of a murderer’s triumphs on the athletics track, in The Trials Of Oscar Pistorius (BBC2) (pictured)
Or maybe they imagine it’s the duty of a public broadcaster to encourage children to despise organised religion.
Equally inappropriate was the celebration of a murderer’s triumphs on the athletics track, in The Trials Of Oscar Pistorius (BBC2) — a title with a double meaning, implying that the poor boy has suffered dreadfully.
Pistorius shot dead his 29-year-old girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp with hollow-point bullets that tore her body apart.
How anyone can have a shred of sympathy for this killer, however much he snivelled in court, bewilders me.
Pistorius shot dead his 29-year-old girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp with hollow-point bullets that tore her body apart (pictured together)
The makers of this four-part documentary appear to believe that Pistorius’s achievements at the 2012 Olympics, where he became the first Paralympic athlete to compete against able-bodied runners, mitigate what he did.
We saw the crowd going wild as he raced at Athens in 2004, and the camera lingered on his face on the podium.
If the BBC wanted to screen a four-hour tribute to an inspirational Olympian who overcame disability, why not show us the life of swimmer Ellie Simmonds or wheelchair rocket Tanni Grey-Thompson?
The family of Pistorius queued up to assure us how very out of character it was for him to slaughter anyone. What exceptionally bad taste.
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