TV COLUMN: England v France (ITV), Jonah Lomu, London Spy (BBC2)

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

Television and sport can be a heady cocktail, especially when blended with human tragedy and public pathos.

Tuesday’s evening’s England v France (ITV1) pre-match show of solidarity after the Paris attacks last Friday was one of those occasions that transcended the mere sporting.

In the singing of La Marseillaise, Wembly gave football the sort of reverberating anthem more commonly heard at rugby matches.

Republican anthems have a verve and a Vive! we don’t have in our un-revolutionised state, even in the Celtic fringe. The French anthem has its roots in the late eighteenth century, the storming of the Bastille, revolution and the reign of terror. Perhaps no other European city has the resilience of Paris in overcoming violence on its streets.

The crowd sang. Flags were waved. The applause was meaningful. The minute’s silence haunting. The pictures were beamed all around the world and the world watched back.

It’s not the first time La Marseillaise has been deployed so publically. Back in 1942, Jewish refugees having fled an earlier fascism, cried in movie theatres in America as they watched the anthem being sung against the Nazis in Rick’s bar in Casablanca.

It takes a lot to bring a tear to my eye, but that scene gets me every time.

Trying to contextualise the death of one against the deaths of so many may seem a futile gesture, but the death of former New Zealand rugby star, Jonah Lomu, was another bit of television that captured a moment.

The news footage of Lomu from the 1995 world cup, single-handedly running over, running through and running amok against the world’s best was the epitome of health, strength and vitality. Archive television often provides a portrait in death that eulogies alone cannot.

He died this week aged 40-years-old.

Lomu was just 19-years-old then, defining ahead of his time the modern game of rugby. He had a physique, speed and agility that was simply awesome to watch – a juggernaut on twinkle-toes performing a brutal ballet.

In the fictional world of television, Danny (Ben Whishaw) has been skulking and mumbling his way through London Spy (BBC2) and a conspiratorial world trying to find out why his lover has been killed.

There are ‘slow burners’ and then there’s trying to get a flame from a pile of wet sticks. And London Spy, which promised so much, is really struggling to catch fire after the first two episodes.

The writers have clearly gone for pacing which echoes that of the 1979 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But Tinker Tailor had Alec Guinness to provide the gravity at the centre.

Whishaw, accomplished as he can be, can’t provide that same gravity and is overpowered by the performances around him, especially those of Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling. Even Edward Holcroft, who plays the now dead Alex, is managing it without saying a word.

London Spy already has a hackneyed predictability about it. Any episode now, no doubt Danny will be arrested by the shadowy police for Alex’s murder. We’ve seen it all before. Wet sticks: all smoke, no spark. Certainly no roaring blaze.