Britain is a nation of fantasists. We are drawn to fantasies like a moth to a flame, like a author to a jaded simile. There are fantasies of our once-dominant empire. Fantasies of energy, of relevance. A fantastical mis-remembering of our personal sordid historical past. On Sunday, ITV broadcast 45 minutes of pure, noxious fantasy, within the type of feather-light comedy-drama The Larkins. The collection, an adaptation of HE Bates’ 1958 novel The Darling Buds of May, focuses on the eccentric Larkin household, as they take pleasure in low-stakes misadventures in Fifties Kent. The present is a throwback, a broad and psychotically sentimental look at rural British life within the mid-Twentieth century. And it’s pure and utter trash.
It’s not that there’s no expertise concerned – The Larkins’ forged consists of Thick of It alumni Joanna Scanlan and Tony Gardner, and Toast of London’s Robert Bathurst (although The Chase presenter Bradley Walsh is staggeringly unhealthy within the lead position). But the humour is painfully apparent, and infrequently downright painful; the entire thing has the feel and appear of an commercial for margarine. Perhaps it’s particularly apt to liken The Larkins to an advert: the collection is promoting Britain a picture of itself – one so deadeningly twee that you simply surprise who it’s probably fooling. And the worst factor is, there’s in all probability rather a lot more the place that got here from.
Last month, the federal government was extensively mocked for its feedback about the way forward for nationwide TV, when former media minister John Whittingdale impressed upon our nationwide broadcasters the necessity – and, maybe, a proper requirement – for more “clearly British TV”. In a standard society, you would possibly assume that these phrases might come again to hang-out a authorities, although time has lengthy proven the Conservatives are past such reproach. (If this authorities had been actually able to being haunted, then the streets of Westminster could be swarming with spectres, the Commons crowded like some sort of paranormal mosh pit.) For all its myriad failings – certainly, partly as a result of of them – The Larkins could be confidently stated to epitomise this “distinctively British” ethos. If this is what the way forward for British TV seems like, the scenario might hardly be bleaker.
In his damning but wholly accurate review in The Independent, Sean O’Grady described the collection as an “abomination”, and as “a sort of Brexit Television, set in a post-war green and pleasant England that never was and never will be, but for which so many feel an overwhelming nostalgia”. It undoubtedly is this, a programme catering to the nation’s most regressive and rose-goggled notions of its personal identification – notions that fuelled the Brexit motion and drove us out of the European Union. The Larkins is hardly distinctive on this regard (simply look at the enduring recognition of James Bond, a franchise that is obsessive about some misplaced, illusory very best of “Englishness” and England’s inflated international significance), however it is a very egregious instance of it. However, The Larkins is additionally post-Brexit tv in one other sense. It is a part of the bigger product of “British culture” that we should attempt to flog at dwelling and overseas within the much-vaunted free market. But who on earth would purchase what we’re promoting?
Britain has produced a litany of nice TV exhibits lately, throughout many genres. David Attenborough’s nature documentaries – particularly the award-winning Planet Earth collection – are famend around the globe because the very apex of their style. Whether or not you subscribe to the apocryphal stereotype of the “dry British wit”, there’s rather a lot to be stated for our comedy – collection like Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Toast of London and The Detectorists. Truly nice dramas have been fewer and additional between – although collection comparable to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe and Shane Meadows’s This is England, I May Destroy You and The Virtues have stood out as examples of what British drama is nonetheless capable of obtain. They handle to get to the core of the issues with modern UK society. But these are sadly not what the division of tradition meant by “distinctly British” collection.
The irony is: there truly is a have to protect the integrity of Britishness on display screen, and it is more and more below risk. Ostensibly, British-set collection comparable to Ted Lasso and Sex Education re-package our nation into one thing pseudo-American, utilizing Britishness as merely an aesthetic, an excuse to wheel out some novelty accents whereas sanding off any specifics that may alienate viewers within the US. We embrace the exhibits anyway, ignoring when somebody makes use of the phrase “high school”, or says a constructing is “three blocks away” – however it’s clear that no try has been made to characterize Britain authentically. This is, nonetheless, no much less true of The Larkins.
The notion of a mandated requirement to provide “clearly British” TV collection is each ludicrous and unenforceable. But the UK’s nationwide broadcasters are below ever-mounting stress to abide by the federal government’s whims, with the specter of privatisation dangled perennially over the heads of the BBC and Channel 4. All our conventional channels should now additionally compete for viewers towards an inflow of multinational streaming companies – the Amazons, Disney Pluses, Netflixes of the world. If a concession to more Britishness means more collection like The Larkins, then that’s a battle our TV business might have already misplaced.