I often find myself watching TV dramas in a state of confusion and puzzlement. “Is he the other guy’s brother?” “Who is she supposed to work for?” “Why did they do that?” “So was that a flashback or a dream?” “Is this set in Denmark or Sweden – or both?”
I usually give up trying to follow convoluted plots and end up just taking in the scenery. A bit like going on one of those hop-on hop-off city bus tours with the audio commentary delivering a stream of mildly interesting facts and historical notes. Dates, names of architects, meaningless data: “The building on your right was the fifth tallest grain store in the world when it was built in 1875.” I enjoy gazing at the citizens going about their daily lives, as the driver negotiates heavy traffic on our behalf.
However, the BBC post-World War Two mini-series Close to the Enemy written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff does not afford the viewer any such cozy reverie. It is quite the most unsatisfactory piece of television drama that I have had the misfortune to watch (and I have seen Downton Abbey).
Actually, Downton Abbey is a useful comparison. Because whilst that series suffered from some leaden dialogue, ridiculous plotlines and a completely fanciful imagining of life in an early 20th century aristocratic household, it was a competent and popular soap opera with lavish production values which, whilst it wasn’t my cup of tea, appealed to millions of viewers. And it was shown on ITV, traditionally the home of lower quality drama.
Nowadays, the roles are reversed; BBC output is often inferior to that of its commercial rivals and Close to the Enemy is a prime example. It is truly awful on every level. If this were a city bus tour, the driver would be an impostor from the local nursing home who has forgotten to take his medication and, having somehow duped the bus company into giving him the keys and a uniform is cheerfully taking us the wrong way down a one way street to a destination he remembers from childhood.
Close to the Enemy has the look and feel of a school play complete with mannered acting, a jarring preposterous script, and ludicrous unconvincing sets. I could not bear to sit through the whole of the first episode, having felt a range of emotions from mild irritation through open-jawed incredulity, anger and finally to despair that the BBC has reached the point where dross such as this actually makes it on air without anybody vetoing it.