Friday, 23 May 2014

From There to Here; Horizon: The £10 Million Challenge – TV review

'Why, Mr Homegrown Drama Ambassador, with this three-part series written by Peter Bowker (of Occupation and Blackpool) that begins in 1996 with the Manchester IRA bombing, you are really spoiling us!"

It's called From There to Here (BBC1), and it's wonderful. Bowker's drama sets out to trace the repercussions of the blast for the city, and for the Cotton family, which includes Philip Glenister (as Dan), Steven Mackintosh (as Dan's shiftless brother, Robbo) and Bernard Hill (their eternally unimpressed dad).

For Manchester, what first appears to be a disaster soon turns out to have its upside as it becomes the catalyst for a £1.2bn regeneration of what I shall choose to annoy many, many people by calling the capital of the north.

For the Cottons, the outcome is less clear. Dan, restless in middle age and tired of piggy-in-the-middle between his father and the estranged Robbo, forms a friendship-with-benefits-shimmering-on-the-horizon with Joanne (an absolutely perfect performance from Liz White – tough and tender, wholly natural, wholly irresistible), a woman he rescues from the pub she was cleaning and he was drinking in when the bomb went off.

Robbo sees an opportunity to clear his debts with the local drug gang, by setting another "IRA" bomb off in his club and claiming compensation. And the patriarch has a stroke – although this may also have something to do with the row he had with Dan about the heavyhanded upbringing he gave his sons. "The IRA tried to kill me in the morning, you tried to kill me in the afternoon. I'd feel like shit if I were in your shoes, but we move on," he says to Dan, as soon as he's feeling a bit better. But a hospital visit from his Tory-voting, investment banking, PFI-and-private-equity-proselytising grandson Charlie galvanises him into looking anew at the moribund family business (a sweet-manufacturing company) and soon Dan finds himself embroiled in a new round of intra-Cotton politics – trying to save the business via Charlie's methods without alienating his hard-left daughter Louise (Morven Christie). Thus are the wheels set in motion for a cliffhanger ending which required the first, but still only a small amount of, willing suspension of disbelief, as Dan sat with Robbo's bomb on his lap, watching the clock tick down and murmuring, "You really need to tell me what to do", as Robbo Robbo-ishly dived for cover before it went – and boy, did it go – off.

Tune in next week if you want to find out who survived and who got splattered. But only if you like rich, confident, subtle, beautifully-written drama in which characters speak and act and crack jokes in bad situations just like real people do while it pursues the larger questions of what fate means, where hope goes and whether anyone – let alone football fans – has free will. Once again Bowker shoots, once again he scores.

Are you a genius of some stripe? Or someone who would like to play God with geniuses of many stripes? Either way, Horizon: The £10 Million Challenge was for you. To celebrate the series' 50th anniversary it launched a new Longitude prize. The original was a £20,000 purse offered by the good but baffled men of the British government in 1714 to anyone who could build a clock that could keep proper time at sea and so allow accurate navigation, domination of the seas and super-duper empire-building. It was won by Yorkshire clockmaker John Harrison.

Because humanity has progressed so remarkably well since then, the purse now stands at £10m and the problems to be solved are manifold. A sextet of presenters, including Dr Michael Mosley, delivered succinct and efficient little explanations for the need for a solution to antibiotic resistance, to global warming, dementia, paralysis, clean water scarcity and rising malnutrition. And – because this kind of thing is so much better left to people like me (who had to look up who won Euro 96 so that I could try to figure out where the plot of From There to Here was going, I shit thee not), since experts 'n' that are so elitist with their thinking and their learning and supple synthesising of lifetimes of accumulated wisdom – the public gets to vote on which one to tackle.

Anyone from around the world is able to submit his or her solution to whichever problem is voted the most pressing, and the £10m will be awarded to whoever is deemed – by a committee of specialists rather than vox pops by Fearne Cotton – to have succeeded.

Good luck to everyone, and here's to another half-century of Horizon. Nobody, at least not consistently, does it better.





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