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The TV Column (2 Feb)

Mo Mowlam, Julie Walters, Alex Reid and the final ever word on CBB, all mentioned here by Gerry Corner

Written by . Published on February 2nd 2010.


The TV Column (2 Feb)

THE opening minutes of Mo (C4, Sunday) showed a woman steadfastly giving her all; be it attending a karaoke night at the local community centre or attending to her husband on a crowded beach. (Having witnessed another female Labour MP unashamedly getting to grips in a public place, I can vouch for the scene's veracity. They obviously can't help themselves.)

Julie Walters seems incapable of a bad performance: as Mowlam she looked the part (her dedication extended to shaving her head and at times you forgot it was her) and she embraced the comedy and the tragedy of the piece with equal dexterity

She liked a drink, Mo Mowlam, and a smoke, but most of all she liked a good swear. Her profanities, apart from providing some of the best entertainment of Neil McKay's 130-minute drama, had a greater significance. The MP's famously plain-speaking approach during the Northern Ireland peace talks (she told Ian Paisley to “fuck off”) is thought to have been key to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

In Mo, she displays absolute equality in her disrespect to others – addressing Tony Blair as “babe” and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams as “bastards”. McKay's script suggests that the disinhibiting effect of a brain tumour exaggerated Mowlam's natural openness to the point where it quite disarmed – not literally, that came later – stony-hearted, inflexible men from both sides of the divide.

The irony here is that had Mowlam been honest about the seriousness of a condition that would kill her, it is unlikely she would have got the Northern Ireland job. As it is, we can never know how much peace in the province was the result of a neuropsychological dysfunction, but by such things history is decided.

Perhaps that disinhibiting effect is what prompted her to whip off her wig (worn to hide the ravages of radiotherapy) and suggest to Adams and McGuinness, “tell you what, boys, let's start this meeting again but this time, no cocks on the table”.

It's hard to imagine the history of negotiations in the province had ever provided so much fun for a dramatist. MP Adam Ingram, who worked closely with Mowlam, tells her at one point in negotiations at Stormont, “Paisley says there are terrorists - and at least one homosexual - in the building”.

There were some terrible moments of exposition in the script. Show, don't tell, is the screenwriter's mantra but Unionist leader David Trimble's lengthy elucidation to Mowlam of an incident happening, right there and then, in the Maze prison - and its consequences for the Loyalist ceasefire - read like a page from a history textbook.

“David, I understand all that,” sniped Mo, only emphasising that an implausible exchange was there solely as background for viewers.

But this was a big subject, and as the real-life Adam Ingram observed of the drama, ““there are minutes depicting years,” and the occasional clunk of dialogue was more than compensated for elsewhere.

The politicians portrayed were all carefully constructed lookalikes except, oddly, in the case of Liverpool MP Peter Kilfoyle. He was played by a dead ringer for John Prescott, suggesting the actor was hired as the deputy leader but had the role of Mo's friend and close colleague thrust upon him instead.

Julie Walters seems incapable of a bad performance: as Mowlam she looked the part (her dedication extended to shaving her head and at times you forgot it was her) and she embraced the comedy and the tragedy of the piece with equal dexterity.

The inevitable end is hard to bear, but not overly dwelled on; Walters and an adept make-up department show Mo's political and physical decline credibly and with poignancy. Her anger and resentment at what she perceived as a

plot to replace her in the Northern Ireland job with Peter Mandelson was equally painful. It was, she later complained, “fucking unfair . . I can't help thinking about it”.

But it is the Labour minister's spirit and forthrightness that provide the real spark. “I bet this is the first time there's ever been a fanny in the place,” she nervously remarks en route to address an Orange Order meeting. And then, confronted by the snarling male crowd, “I take that back, the place is full of cunts” .

SO FAREWELL then Celebrity Big Brother (C4, all January until Saturday). Come the final series even the celebrities were complaining that their housemates were not famous enough. Such was the struggle to attract anyone of note that some contestants were allowed to bring along some fame they had borrowed from a friend.

Thus the winner, Alex Reid, was known only by association with girlfriend Katie Price, and Katia for being rogered by Ronnie Wood. While Dane had been a little tiny bit famous once, but not, he confessed, ”for a long time”.

By the end, most of the housemates had gained the impression that Vinnie Jones was a national hero and all-round great guy. Mostly from Vinnie.

Jones had agreed to take part in the hope of improving his image as a one-time footballing hard case whose chief asset was his ability to intimidate the opposition, and now an actor playing hard cases whose chief asset is their ability to, er . . .

His strategy went well just as long as everybody agreed that he was in charge of everything: cooking, cleaning, bitching, taking the piss. When Sisqo questioned his authority, Vinnie informed Stephanie that “in the old days he'd have been thrown through the window”. Instead, he merely threatened to unleash his lawyers, which goes to show what a big softy he's turned into.

Perhaps sensing he could never quite shake off an air of low menace, Vinnie played for sympathy. You and I might think living in an eight-room mansion in Beverly Hills is pretty cushy but we don't know the half. I mean, Vinnie's gotta pay the cleaner, the poolman, the dog groomer, car valet, nails for the girls, that's two and a half grand a week “before you even get out of bed in the morning”.

Stephanie sympathised in the way that only fellow rich bastards can. “I just cut down,” she said. Cut down! How does the woman manage, for God's sake? Stephanie might have won for her good humour in the face of BB's worst indignities, and a humanity that extended to defending Sisqo, but sadly never in a way that would seriously get up Vinnie's nose.

The dubious judgement of the viewing public betrayed itself more than once. They showed the door early to the most interesting member of the household – part-time thespian, full-time Christian, Stephen Baldwin – reducing the final ever week to a tame affair. And they initially decided to swallow whole the tabloid version of Alex Reid, with the result that he was comprehensively derided on his way into the house.

That he won was largely the result of him turning out not to be the ranting, cross-dressing freak a couple of newspapers had insisted upon, but an everyday, okay bloke. No more, no less. The nation said sorry by telephone vote. So, in a sense, it was the Sun wot won it, but in a way they could never have imagined.

We learned one thing in this final series; that Sweden may have the best education system in the world, it may be a model of tolerance and social equality but there is a price, and the price is not higher taxes, but a sense of humour that has failed to graduate from the fifth form toilet block. The by-product of living in a crap country is good comedy; in Sweden they put their hands down their trousers to raise a laugh.

Thus, the Swedish entrant, Jonas, spent the entire series blowing up condoms and breaking wind to the exasperation of certain members of the household, most notably Ivana. Strange, but fitting, that the chief objector to Jonas's persistent farting should be a Trump.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

KnowledgeableFebruary 2nd 2010.

Could be, Gazby, could be. You've got a good memory.

that'smrbollockstoyouFebruary 2nd 2010.

Shame there wasn't a place in the CBB house for Frank Bough too.

GazbyFebruary 2nd 2010.

Very good review and very good film. But did this used to be TV Corner in the Echo?

Bill BaileyFebruary 2nd 2010.

I can understand the picture of Mo Mowlam on the right, but why one of me on the left?

Farter TedFebruary 2nd 2010.

Yes, but he would have had to have taken part on a no wind no fee basis

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