The week in TV: Anne Boleyn; Mare of Easttown; Sweet Tooth; The Anti-Vax Conspiracy

Jodie Turner-Smith was a mesmerising presence in the decidedly uneven Anne Boleyn, Kate Winslet bowed out and will be sorely missed, while a history of the anti-vax movement was both startling and enraging

Anne Boleyn (Channel 5) | My5
Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic) |
Sweet Tooth (Netflix)
The Anti-Vax Conspiracy (Channel 4) | All 4

There should be a handy new definition of time elapsed, to denote that undelineated period between “give me a sec” and “give me a minute”. A truckle, say. So, a truckle could be defined as anywhere between 11 and 47 seconds: the time for you to remember, on slamming the front door, that you’ve left the keys inside and chicken stock pupping away on the hob or the time elapsed between seeing the departure gates and starting to pat all your inside pockets to find your passp…

Anyway, it took me the merest truckle to believe Jodie Turner-Smith was Anne Boleyn. Turner-Smith displayed a mesmerising haughteur, a splendid and spirited indifference to court values and an air of utter credibility that such a strong, seductive woman could have inhabited the role of highest female power in all the land. Unfortunately, the huffy little row over the casting of a Jamaican-descent actor in the lead role was all too often permitted to overshadow the question of whether Channel 5’s three-night drama was any good.

It depends on comparisons. Set against most period dramas, it was fine. Yet the closest obvious comparison is (and was always going to be) Wolf Hall, against which it struggled to compete in an anything but the most obvious fashion in that it was, identifiably, the English court of 1536. Turner-Smith apart, most of the performances were underwhelming, though I did feel for Barry Ward as Thomas Cromwell: who’d want to even attempt to reprise Mark Rylance? A little too much exposition and explication of them thar times and way too much heavy-handed metaphor with the screeching peacocks and slaughtered horse. And Henry was portrayed as little more than a tiresomely capricious wimp, who would surely never have preferred the wan and mimsy little Jane Seymour to Anne, while the snatched snog between Anne and Jane just felt… unlooked for, adding nothing to the plot. Fair enough, it exposed the quite impossibly cruel judgments of those days, stern pious men in Bible-black sitting in hideous condemnation of a miscarriage that fails to deliver an heir, but it might have benefited from a few more (ie any) conflicted patriarchs. They had, after all, three full nights.

Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown.
A slice of perfection: Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

Many appear undecided as to whether to wish for a second series of Mare of Easttown, as am I. It was a slice of perfection, a love letter to post-industrial Pennsylvania, face ground into the gutter and not even daring to look at the stars. Instead, they cling to family and, when that lets them down, friends, and, when these let them down… what’s left but to keep putting one foot in front of the other?

Kate Winslet deserves everything coming to her for her performance as Mare, but to my mind it is just that aspect: never mind the lack of makeup, the surl, it’s the way she treads, one foot in front of the other, stomping, anchors in the dust. However, the finale lived up to expectations (and to my belief that the number of episodes, in this case seven, has a direct correlation to quality: lesser productions package neatly into eight or 12), being low key, honest, conclusive, bitter and obliquely redemptive. Kate was in danger of lifting her heavy tread long enough to smile. On the other hand, who among us wouldn’t want her to be let loose again in a year’s time, among those bluest of blue collars?

Sweet Tooth, a lush new thing on Netflix, comes, as so often these days, from a comic book. It’s set in a dystopian nightmare (as if there’s any other kind, surely?) of a post-apocalyptic world in which a virus, the sick, has exploded through the globe and left children being born as animal hybrids. Hybrids are immune to the sick, which makes the few remaining humans loathe and fear them more.

My heart had sunk: not another dystopia/fantasy/gothic kids’ tale gussied up to con adults into watching two-and-a-bit episodes? But it’s really rather lovely: it moves at a fair and intriguing pace, has vaulting landscapes and, while the whole might not hang together empirically, or even plot-wise, it’s rather a delight. The mismatched leads – young Christian Convery as deer-boy Gus, Nonso Anozie as his reluctant mentor – possess a rare chemistry.

Christian Convery in Sweet Tooth.
A delight: Christian Convery in Sweet Tooth. Photograph: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

A startling Channel 4 special on the anti-vaccination movement, The Anti-Vax Conspiracy, managed to engender equal amounts of despair and contempt. It retrod a little old ground, yes, such as the scandal around disgraced anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield (which Channel 4 itself helped expose), but unpacked new punches every few minutes. It pointed out, usefully, that the Wakefield/MMR scandal was kicking off right around the early days of the internet. Even so, I truly hadn’t realised that, so far, 60 million social media followers worldwide have been dirtily conned.

I loved the evidence, before a Senate committee, of the toweringly sane youngster Ethan Lindenberger, who rebelled against his mother’s anti-vax beliefs and got himself jabbed when he turned 18. His mum, or even mom, obtained most information from Facebook. “And where do you get most of your information?” came the question. “From… not Facebook.” Amen to that.

Above all, this fine documentary did a grand job of exposing why the anti-vax industry does what it does and the simple answer is money. Ain’t it always. There’s gold in those pills and whether it’s vitamin “supplements” at 200 bucks a pop or homespun swimming-pool bleach repackaged as a “cure” for autism (there are parents who proudly keep, in jars, the stomach-lining stripped from their children as proof that autism is being stripped out of them), it’s a multimillion dollar industry, promoted by the likes of Robert Kennedy Jr and Jim Carrey.

Back to Britain for a final slice of lunacy in the time of Covid. This for anti-vaxxers was just the cherry on the cake. Piers Corbyn, the real “PC gone mad”, ranting: “If people don’t stand up [against Covid jabs], this is going to be the end of the human race as we know it.” Wakefield, long since disgraced as a charlatan in Britain, was seen via video link preaching to adoring Trafalgar Square crowds. The charming doctor now lives on a south Florida estate with Elle Macpherson. In a ranch signposted “Wakefield. Snake-oil salesman to the stars and the soft-brained, because there’s a sucker born every minute.” Only one sentence of the above is a lie.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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