The Guardian 12 October, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun October 16 — Sat October 22

At the CPA’s Tenth Congress a week or so ago, a delegate reported on the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming: higher sea levels, higher temperatures, environmental degradation.

However, climate change is highly complex. As The Big Chill (SBS 8.30pm Sunday) shows, alterations to ocean temperatures affects not only the air above the ocean but the currents within it.

As well as warmer weather in some areas, the changes could generate equally catastrophic colder temperatures in other areas.

Extensive research by groups of international scientists reveal for example that the Gulf Stream, the vast current of water from the Caribbean that keeps Britain warm, could in effect be cut off. And the climate change would not just be confined to Britain.

A growing number of experts fear Britain and north-western Europe could be heading towards having a climate like Alaska. Sea-ports could be frozen over. Ice storms could ravage the country, and London could see snow lying on the grounds for weeks on end.

And it would paradoxically be the result of global warming.

The telemovie The Girl In The Café (ABC 8.30pm Sunday) is a co-production of Tightrope Pictures, the BBC and US cable channel HBO (Home Box office). It is written by Richard Curtis, the writer-director of Love Actually (and before that the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, as well as TV classics The Vicar of Dibley and Blackadder).

This latest film was written by him as a contribution to the "Make Poverty History" initiative. The story is about a jaded senior public servant (Bill Nighy) who takes a girl he picked up in a café to the G8 Summit in Reykjavik.

There she disgraces him and herself by asking pointed questions and demanding commitment from the British PM and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ending severe poverty ("the poverty that kills", as Nighy’s character explains).

Despite the political setting and its obvious sincere intentions, the film is hardly an example of realism. It is in fact an example of romanticism. It is not being cynical to say that G8 leaders just do not think like this.

But to give Curtis his due: this film probably brought the facts of global poverty and the urgency of the problem home to more people than magazine and newspaper articles ever did.

Happy Birthday Oscar Wilde (SBS 9.30pm Sunday) was made last year for the 150th anniversary of the Irish poet and playwright’s birth. Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, and SBS has chosen to screen it on October 16 this year in tribute.

The filmmakers have taken 150 lines of Wilde’s finest prose, epigrams and verse and had them spoken by 150 luminaries of the arts: actors, writers, performers and musicians including U2’s Bono and Larry Mullins, Liam Neeson, Martin Sheen, Annie Lennox, and Geoffrey Rush among others.

Wilde was a celebrity in Victorian society, but for all the fawning attention they paid to him in public, the English ruling class hated him: they were all too aware that his plays pilloried their affectations and insincerities, showed up their selfish class interests and held them up to ridicule.

Although being homosexual was hardly uncommon in Victorian Britain, when the chance came to use his homosexuality as an excuse to jail Wilde (and thus to silence him), the ruling class leapt at it with (if you’ll pardon the pun) gay abandon.

The program includes excerpts from Wilde’s powerful and moving work The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

As Wilde said: "All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

The subject of Tony Robinson’s series Fact Or Fiction (ABC 8.30pm Thursdays) this week is Robin Hood. There is evidence of several possible real life Robin Hoods, each connected to the Lancastrian rebellion, for which they would have been outlawed.

But Tony Robinson also finds that Robin Hood may have been a nick-name for Medieval wide-boys or criminals, and that the legends pre-dated the real-life characters.

As Robinson himself sums up the situation: "Whether the legend is about the spirit of the Greenwood, or the nature of being a hero, or the struggle of the common man, they all create for us a Robin who is fair, brave, heroic and just human enough for us to be able to believe that, in a fairer world, we too might be Robin Hood."

In WW2, Black Americans who enlisted were initially kept segregated from white service personnel and given non-combatant jobs in engineering and quartermaster battalions (digging latrines, building roads, etc).

When the US Army tried to send its black battalions to Australia, they were at first refused entry, the government believing that allowing them in would jeopardise the White Australia Policy!

So, while Prime Minister Curtin argued with the American government about their entry, black soldiers were kept cooped up in ships off the Australian coast. Sixty years on a number of them recall their experiences of serving in a segregated army on Australian soil in the documentary Black Soldier Blues (SBS 8.30pm Thursday).

It is interesting to note how the romantic and sexual entanglements — such as they are — in 55 Degrees North (ABC 8.30pm Fridays) manage to avoid the soap opera feel of similar entanglements in The Bill. Of course, there is only one entanglement in 55 Degrees North whereas The Bill has them in droves.

This week, corruption in the Newcastle force becomes more apparent, with a heavy-handed attempt to either bribe Nicky or to frame him. He seeks advice from Crown Prosecutor Claire Maxwell (Dervla Kirwan) about how to handle the matter, and as he leaves she startles him with a kiss.

Later she confides that her married lover has made her pregnant.

The drama series P.O.W. (ABC 9.25pm Saturdays) is beginning to shape up satisfactorily, the Lithuanian settings filling in quite well for WW2 Germany. James D’Arcy (who starred in the series Nicholas Nickleby) makes a rather wet hero, prone to being beaten up or crying, but he grows on you after a while.

POWs had little else to do but devise escape plans and plenty of time in which to put them into effect. Their efforts to outwit the enemy and escape to freedom were frequently ingenious, always courageous and sometimes astonishing.

So it is hardly surprising that this series, which seems to be quite well written and directed, is also moderately exciting.

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