The week in TV: Mutiny; Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux and more

Channel 4’s Mutiny gave a tired genre a bracing breath of ocean air, while surprising eateries and the history of photography offered more sedate thrills

Mutiny (C4) | All 4
Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux (C4) | All 4
Britain in Focus: a Photographic History (BBC4) | iPlayer
SS-GB (BBC1) | iPlayer

Channel 4’s big new reality thing was Mutiny, and it was refreshing as a bucket of green Coral Sea brine in the face. Mainly because it was ambitious, featuring a right proper challenge, and not too many screaming divas, and took itself semi-seriously: the result was absorbing and I wish it was going on for many more weeks.

I had been, habitually, ready to sneer. Nine hand-picked guys in a boat, trying to recreate Bligh’s 4,000-mile voyage from the South Pacific after being set adrift from the Bounty by Fletcher Christian: already I was looking for the flake, the narcissist, the gurner, the mammy’s boy who would let the side down; I was on iPod alert. But what was this? A genuine replica of the queasy craft, a bunch of relatively genuine guys willing to get their hands dirty, and with useful skills – a carpenter, quartermaster/cook, ship’s doc, etc. Was it possible they were actually going to do this thing, rather than being mollycoddled through it by Mr Grylls, with nauseating homilies and group hugs?

It was. Chiefly perhaps because the part of “Bear” Grylls was taken instead by “Ant” Middleton – what is it with all the animal monikers already? – who was, ironically enough, a true bear of a man, ex-Special Boat Service and simper-free, almost to the point of stubborn charmlessness. The thing he missed about the services was not the camaraderie but the violent combat. He swore often and beardedly but actually got things done, and soon the men were actually sailing. Really sailing – oh, I know there must have been a safety boat, and chopper, somewhere nearby, but they were far out of sight, and in the dirty squalls of the South Pacific, couldn’t have done much if a man had disappeared beneath one of those walls of water.

One of the guys, ship’s doc Luke, had said beforehand that he was scared of sunburn, and I got my sneer ready, but, in truth, watching them stranded for two days in the doldrums, gagging for a blink of cover from the mirror’d sky, it was wiped off my face. Later, after two days of constant rain, most developed trench hand.

There was of course, a fly in the ointment, and it came in the form of helmsman Chris, a self-styled “adventurer” and ex-con who adopted, brilliantly, the role of chippy recalcitrant. He wheedled, he boasted, he sulked, he lazed, he wouldn’t take a telling under any circumstances. What was fascinating was not his place of origin – which did, yes, happen to be Liverpool – but what had happened to him, so early in life, to adopt such a self-destructive battery of defensive mechanisms: he can’t see beyond people “telling him what to fecking do” even though it’s meant for the best, delivered with great goodwill, and the lives of his colleagues might depend on it. In fairness Ant did try repeatedly, gruffly, to get through, but what Chris needed was about six years of therapy. But more of this kind of stuff please. For once, as the gang reached Vanuatu, the relieved masculine high-fiving was in no way inappropriate.

In Hidden Restaurants, Michel Roux Jr, who despite his easy, kindly chuckles, still looks like a perennially startled man-rabbit, took us off on a mix of property-porn and food-porn, finding startling locations – a treehouse, an abandoned Martello tower, a park sculpture and the like – which have been turned, by simple good-cooking principles and (presumably) the application of hundreds of thousands of pounds, into highly toothsome restaurants. It was hardly the most challenging programme of the week, but by the end I was both marvelling, as ever, at the eccentricities of the English landscape, and salivating on to my boots.

Eamonn McCabe strikes a pose in Britain in Focus: A Photographic History.
Eamonn McCabe strikes a pose in Britain in Focus: A Photographic History. Photograph: Tom Reeves

Also accompanying us most amiably was Eamonn McCabe, who cut his teeth on this very paper, kicking off Britain in Focus, a most timely three-part exploration into the history of British photography. It began with the discoveries – mostly, it has to be said, made by aristos with too much time and insanely too much money on their hands – of ways to get light increasingly cleverly into a box. As McCabe concluded, the remarkable thing was how quickly the new art form had moved in 60 short years, from clunky paraphernalia of wet-plate to ethereal, from snapshot to war (and the first arguments about veracity). Next week, presumably, we’ll get the golden age, Magnum and Cartier-Bresson. Perhaps it was always inevitable that the third, digital, age was destined to slink back to the pre-evolutionary illiteracy of a billion people photographing their navels, for ever.

“In the last 48 hours, I’ve lost one man. Killed another. Made love to you for the first time,” says Archer, in the latest increasingly dull outing for SS-GB.

“Hmm,” says Barbara Barga, in bed as usual but, as usual, not having listened. “You seem… different.”

I think I’ve identified the problem with this thing. It’s not the subfusc filming, the mumbling, the non-scary Nazis. At least, that’s not all. It’s not even the Beeb’s rush to adapt another thriller to follow The Night Manager. It’s simply the dreadfully clunky script, from two writers, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, known for Bond films (but denied the big-ass budget that at worst can allow one to proceed without plot or characterisation). That’s the real what-if, alternative-reality question for SS-GB: what if the script had been any good?


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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