Someone has dumped a pile of horse manure for the Olympic Deliverance Team to clear up. Not a metaphor, there is an actual heap of ordure outside the office. This is a sign that the use of Greenwich Park to stage the equestrian events has raised local ire.1 Enter Tim McInnerny as a washed-up film director who believes he’s leading a revolt against the establishment from a tastefully decorated house worth several million. He won a BAFTA2 in the late seventies, and David Tennant is getting all the best lines again as he outlines the guy’s career. His one film of note “has gone on to achieve near-cult status amongst those who saw it” and he spent some time in Hollywood “where he made almost two other films in the 1980s, before eventually returning to London to make a series of commercially less successful but highly personal marriages.” “Oooh, BURN”, as they say on Facebook.3
McInnerny is keeping away from his more obvious comedy past (Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder, et al) and playing the part as a study in bloated pseudo-radical self-importance. I saw him at the Globe as Iago a few years ago, and here he gives off the same air of self-congratulatory hard-drinking spite, despising the people whom his ego depends upon for validation. He’s “How Lucky Jim Turned Right” in a broader and nastier key, all sentimental patriotism about “that patch of ground out there” and distinct shades of Martin Amis’ continual threats to leave this country he supposedly loves so much. A fuller performance than we’re used to seeing in Twenty Twelve – apart from Olivia’s Colman’s five minutes per episode, of course.
The London Wildlife Stagbeetle Outreach Project, one of those names that you automatically make into an acronym to see if it spells something rude but alas no dice, is bothering the Head of Sustainability, who seems to finally have found a problem which is indeed Sustainability and not Legacy. Whilst you and I are trying to recite “Alexander Beetle”, Twenty Twelve is busy building another of its more pleasing symbols. Following in the carbon footprints of the wind turbine, it seems that the issue is not trees but stumps. The highly detailed map of the park showing every tree is no use, because it does not show the stumps, which are where stagbeetles actually live. Save the stumps! And it gradually dawns that you can’t really save a stump, if you’d saved it, it wouldn’t be a stump. In fact, it would do the beetles quite a lot of good if quite a lot of chainsaws were taken to quite a lot of trees in this park. Interesting… OK, it’s not as clear a metaphor as the turbines, but I quite enjoyed the gently circular nonsense of this plotline.
With a certain quantity of horse-dung on his trousers and an interview on national radio in prospect, Ian (Hugh Bonneville) asks Sally (Olivia Colman) to buy him some new clothes. It’s unclear which part of this ignites the ammo dumps of her fantasy life more – her in the presence of Ian taking off his trousers, or her taking care of him as more than PA with special responsibility for baked goods – but the tension between them rises.
The two sides of the Greenwich Park equestrian dispute meet at the BBC Radio studios, which is unfortunate because it simply reminds us of how much more brilliantly this same scenario was done in The Thick of It. The basic joke is the long wind up to a two-line interview in which one party calls the other “chinless Stalinists” and the other denies being a chinless Stalinist, but it all feels a but limp.
Particularly when compared to the taut rigging of the Ian-Sally plot, which comes to a crisis when Ian’s wife (pixellated because she insists on being kept out of the ducmentary) arrives and demands to know who the hell bought him that new tie. She suspects he’s having an affair with Sally, Ian insists that Sally be kept out of his marital breakup, Sally tries to find the right way of saying that she’d very much like to be a part of his marital breakup, and the camera rolls around the floor pretending to be off because of all the threats of being sued. “No, but it’s not a problem or anything, but all my life…” says Sally desperately as the camera shuts off, ending the season. Crisis, but no resolution. A decent motto for Colman’s superb performance in this role.
1 A sport which is deeply implicated in the social imagination of the British, this. To quote the Campaign for the Real Olympics “horse-dancing is not a sport!”. To quote an ex-colleague “you don’t know the difference between dressage and eventing, do you?”. I am so teaching the controversy here.
2 British Academy of Film and Television Award. It’s probably funnier if you don’t know that.
3 They probably don’t any more, it not being 2005.
Dr. Jem Bloomfield studied at the universities of Oxford and Exeter and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Drama at Oxford Brookes. His research covers the performance of Early Modern drama and the various ways it has been adapted and co-opted throughout the centuries. His own plays include “Bewick Gaudy”, which won the Cameron Mackintosh Award for New Writing, and he is working on a version of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops To Conquer”. His writing on arts, culture, and politics have appeared in “California Literary Review”, “Strand Magazine” and “Liberal Conspiracy”. He blogs at “Quite Irregular” and can be found on Twitter @jembloomfield