Friday, 6 March 2009

Dark Is Easy

If you made it to the end of the desperately overstretched first of Channel 4's drama 'trilogy' Red Riding last night - and I suspect viewing figures plummeted during the second hour - you will not have failed to notice that this was dark stuff. Very dark. Very very dark. Dark as the Earl of Hell's waistcoat. You might also have noticed that - despite the hype and the acting and directing talent involved - it was essentially tosh, a preposterouly over-the-top confection, lazily mixing fact and fiction into a grand guignol extravaganza that presented West Yorkshire Police (incredibly, the force is named) as totally corrupt and dedicated solely to coverups, intimidation and even murder. However, despite having it in their power to bump off anyone who gets in their way, they limited themselves to progressively harder beatings (plus torture) when it came to our hero, the investigative reporter, thereby keeping him alive long enough to make it to the bloodbath finale. As I say, tosh. So why was it so eagerly commissioned and so heavily promoted? Partly, I think, because its insulting and patronising portrayal of the North as a realm of darkness and corruption appeals to 'smart' southern opinion, but more widely because of the unspoken assumption of our age that the darker the picture the truer it must be - we almost will it to be so. This is very handy for dramatists (and others) as, of course, Dark is so much easier than Light, the Bad Guys so much easier to portray and make 'interesting' than the Good Guys. There's an excellent essay on that subject here...
In the end, this unthinking preference for the dark side, the unquestioning assumption that it is somehow more authentic, is a fashion - a long-lasting one now and quite deeply entrenched, but still a fashion. Arguably it is linked to the luxury of living in easy, safe times - as we have been doing until very recently. When things get tough, we are more likely to seek escapism, optimism, good cheer, even exemplars of goodness - look at Hollywood during the Depression years, or, in a smaller way, British cinema during the postwar austerity. Maybe, now that times are going to get very much harder, the pendulum will swing again and hardship will return us to doing what, I hope, comes more naturally to us as humans - swimming towards the light.


  1. You're so right. I gave up on it. Nasty sex scene - as they all were in the seventies. And the mountain of period detail that made it so entirely unrealistic....

  2. so...if I understand you correctly - what you are essentially advocating here is a massive increase in the amount of heartwarming comedies starring Robin Williams?

    I'm not sure if I could handle that

  3. Joey Joe Joe Jr.6 March 2009 at 14:24

    Since gimmick TV is a guilty pleasure mine, as a homage to noiry crime thrillers but -wait for it- set in Barnsley, I enjoyed it. I do agree that the fawning previews were a little too much, seemingly mistaking 'dark' with 'edgy' or even 'realistic'. The subtle differences between documentary drama and fiction left Kate Silverton genuinely muddled on BBC Breakfast yesterday.

  4. I knew I wouldn't like it so I didn't watch it. I can't stand Sean Bean and I don't like being bludgeoned with relentless misery. I am utterly captivated, however, by the Orangutan Diaries on BBC2 which reduces me to mush - but in a good way.

  5. Oh yes Orangutan Diaries is top TV - the telly landscape would be greatly improved if there was a channel entirely devoted to simians (OK Men & Motors is halfway there....) - round-the-clock ape and monkey action, cute babies to the fore in daytime, bonobo spycams after the watershed...

  6. How desperate can you be, digging up the old hard bitten hard drinking reporter routine, once again the hype led to a spectacle which was less than the sum of its tired parts.

    These people draw wages for this ?