Shaw's 'The Apple Cart' sent spinning 50 years on
Shaw fans raisi be well content, In Tuesday Ciente, BBC 2 is currently showing four films on which GBS collaborated with Hungarian-born impresario Gabriel Pascal; (next week: Caesar and Cleopatra) and BBC l's choice for Play of the Month was The Apple Call.
When Shaw wrote this political comedy in 1929 he projected it 50 years into the future. This pi oduction sent it spinning a further 50 years, setting it in a plastic, space-age Buckingham Palace round about AD 2020.
In this Shavian fantasy, the British Empire is not only still in existence hut appears to be economically flourishing (though there is talk of a takeover bid by the greedy United States). The King, Magnus. is a man of style and witty charm (probably a self-portrait) who is more than a match for his democratically elected cabinet.
He has fun playing cat and mouse with his respectable but stuffy ministers knowing that in any battle of wits he's bound to leave them standing. The play is, of course, a vehicle for Shavian ideas about democracy, the meaning of political power and the evils of capitalism, but it never ceases to be entertaining.
With Nigel Davenport as Magnus (released from the long silences of "South Riding") and with Peter Barkworth, Bill Fraser. Bcry! Reid and Prunella Scales also in the cast. the play was off to a head start and it never lost ite momentum.
It was directed by Cedric Messina, who usually produces Play of the Month with great imagination and verve, but once a year takes a side-step intd the directors chair. (It is worth mentioning Messina's recent inspired production of "The Yeomen of the Guard," incomparably better and livelier than any Gilbert and Sullivan production I've ever seen.)
Shaw did not believe in an art divorced from reality. Art was a medium for a social message or it was nothing. In this sense he was a Prc-Raphaelite, heir to that hand of earnest young socialists, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Millais, Borne-Jones, Morris. Swinburne and Ruskin.
The Love School (BBC 1) is an
ambitious aix-part series about the achievements and loves of these young men who in 1348 launched their own revolution against the established artistic conventions of their day. Calling themselves the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, they cocked a snook at the traditionhound Academy, referring to its august founder as Sir Sloshua.
They rejected the Academy's article of faith that art meant
Old Masters and began with Raphael; preferring to model themselves on earlier and more naturalistic Italian painters.
"Go to nature", advised Ruskin, "rejecting, selecting, scorning nothing." In other words, go out and paint what you see, even if it means getting your feet wet. The first episode seemed over-long; hut that was perhaps inevitable in gatherirg together so many highly individual bohemian rebels and trying to make a brotherhood out of their bursting egos. There was plenty of fiezy talk, some confusion, no little irritation hut hardly any drama.
However, the Ruskin-Millais scandal, the death by suicide of Lisaie Siddal (Rossetti's Beata Beatrix), and the Wm Morris — Jane Burden -Rossetti triangle should provide plenty of dramatic tension over the next few weeks,
The Pre-Raphaelites outraged Victorian society by their morals as well as by their art. I hope this series won't emphasise the former revolt out of all proportion to the latter, as happened with Notorious Woman, the disastrous series about George Sand. (The two series have the same producer, Rosemary Hill.) From Beata Beatrix to the Pirelli pin-ups. What would the pre-Raphaelites have made of them, I wonder? Or of the fact that a complete set of the Pirelli calendars was recently auctioned for 480 guineas! In Images for Sale (BBC2), an art historian, a psychologist and a Sociologist discussed the two basic images of woman which emerge throughout art and history.
We are, it seems, eternally either Earth-Mother or Eve. The Madonna or Mate Hari. The patient, protective mum in the Persil ads or the windswept seductive temptress who lures you into buying hairspray or fast cars or that special brand of vodka.
All the illustrations were provided by Woman of course, hut She wasn't invited to join in the talking. Presumably we ought all to be so preoccupied with being motherly or voluptuous that we haven't time to be articulate, too. The woman who exists in her-own right may he a valid third image to add to the other two, bun the image may not he saleable.
When Churchill's People began its 26-week run on BBC 1, I gave it the benefit of the doubt: undeservedly: I now think. Last week's episode on The Great Alfred held the fascination of the unbelievably awful. The earlier handful of Romans had become a sparse fistful of Danes who stumped heavily across the screen from left to right like a group of third-rate panto comics.
Like their predecessors, the Romans, they straightened up every few minutes to give us a run-down on the history of the last hundred years. In one scene of utter bathos involving Guthrum the Dane and an Alfred disguised as a troubadour, I felt that I'd wandered into a below-par sketch from The Two Ronnies.
Dialogue kept homing in on the bewitching topic of Alfred's constipation and the Final scintillating conversation between Alfred (now an old man) and his wife went something like this: Alfred: I wish I had. Queen (pause). Had what? Alfred: Swept you off your feet. Queen: Oh. Alfred: It was really the constipation, you know. Queen (pause). No, it wasn't. Churchill, thou should's( be living at this hour, And if thou wert, thou would'st be playing hell with the BBC for putting out such rubbish in thy name.
Religious programmes on Sunday
Religious Film Festival, BBC 2 at 4.45 p.m.: Pier Paolo Pasolini's beautiful film, The Gospel According to Matthew. Winner of several international awards; also the subject of great cmaftwersy.
Seeing and Believing, BBC I, 10.55 a.m.: 'The Castaway', David Gooderson's play on the life of William Cowper, Time Running Out, BBC 1, 6.15 p.m.: Joan Bakewell talks to Dr Philip Potter. a Me;'' -dist West Indian who became Secretary General of the World Council of Churches in 1972.