Television can be a dreadful waste of time, but good television is worth its weight in gold. This is what is known as a bad metaphor, because you can’t weigh broadcasting in the physical sense, but I think a bad metaphor sometimes says exactly what you mean. So there it is.
What television does really well, in a golden way, is drama. A good story told and acted well is a joy, and pretty much the only thing that makes me cry. There, I’ve said it.
I don’t cry out of sadness, but usually for one of three reasons: because someone has behaved in a way that is profoundly good; because love has triumphed against the odds; or because something unbelievably beautiful has occurred. As Lady Julian of Norwich almost said, we suddenly see that all is well, all will be well and all manner of thing will be well.
You may think that is a pretty high mark to aim at, but all good drama does this to a greater or lesser extent. Which is why I was so disappointed by the much-hyped Bancroft, recently aired on ITV.
“Disappointed” does not really get across the emotions I felt when the last episode reached its dire conclusion. Maybe “intensely annoyed”, “furious” and “very, very angry” come closer.
As human beings we have some basic needs. We need to see good triumph over evil, love and forgiveness conquer fear, and innocence prevail over corruption. Because this does not always happen in everyday life, we need to see it happen in our stories. That is what stories are for. It is what the Christmas story – the kernel of all stories – is about.
Bancroft turned that on its head (I would say spoiler alert, but if I stop you watching it, I’m doing you a favour) by allowing corruption to triumph, a double (possibly triple) murderer to succeed and those doing good to get trampled into the dirt.
In case you think this is a neat twist and rather clever, let me disabuse you. It is OK for evil to succeed for a while if there is something redemptive in it. Peaky Blinders is an example, and there are many others. It is OK to portray a realistic, corrupt world as a setting for the story. It is OK for wicked individuals to have some success if underneath it all the universal virtues are clearly visible.
Bancroft herself (played by Sarah Parish) has almost no redeeming features and does not suffer for her machinations, other than to have her son reject her, which seems to have little effect. I’m not sure what the author was trying to achieve. Someone suggested that he was setting up a second series, but as far as I and many others are concerned, all he’s made sure of is that we won’t watch it.