CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Clever? C4’s back-to-school plot twist would shame a third-former
That’s not fair. That’s not on. As the school drama Ackley Bridge (C4) returned for a third series, it pulled a trick that threatens to make a mockery of viewers who have stuck with it loyally for two years.
Though it purports to be a Grange Hill for grown-ups, with a large cast of pupils and teachers at an experimental Yorkshire school, the heart of the story has always been about the friendship between two very different girls — gobby, impulsive Missy (Poppy Lee Friar) and swotty, intense Nas (Amy-Leigh Hickman).
We’ve followed the girls, now turning 18, through all their adolescent crises — Nas’s rebellion against her parents’ Muslim religion and her discovery that she’s a lesbian, Missy’s gallivanting after boys and her battles with her heroin-addict mother.
Nas (Amy-Leigh Hickman) and Missy (Poppy Lee Friar) have a close friendship despite their differences
Ackley Bridge often feels like a soap opera on full volume, Coronation Street with an Asbo. The classroom dramas sometimes seem concocted, and it’s hard to get worked up about Ofsted inspections.
Still, we keep coming back to see how that big friendship withstands everything life and the scriptwriters can throw at it.
But last night’s episode ended abruptly with the two girls being mowed down by a speeding car on a terrace backstreet. There was no warning, no tense build-up –— one minute Missy and Nas were sitting on a discarded sofa dumped in a skip, making up after their latest spat, and the next their bodies were flying through the air.
The final shot showed them lying broken on the ground, staring into each other’s eyes. We don’t know if either of them is dead but, if they are, that will be a travesty. And if they aren’t, if this was just a cynical stunt for a cliffhanger, that’s a stupid, cheap cop-out.
TV directors should never forget that viewers invest many hours, stretching across months, in their characters. We expect our trust to be repaid. This isn’t Game Of Thrones, where anyone could be killed off at a moment’s notice.
To make it all the more unforgivable, this had been a cracking return for the show — full of emotional turmoil as Missy tried to help her friend prepare for her interview at Oxford University while dreading what her own life will become when school ends.
Downton Abbey’s Rob James-Collier joined the roster as an inspirational English teacher, and ex-Emmerdale star Charlie Hardwick made a deliciously booable villainess, spitting racist asides about the school she dubbed ‘Tandoori High’.
Engineering feat of the night:
The Trans-Pyrenean line from Spain to France was explored in Secrets Of The Railways (Yesterday channel). Today, the tunnels under the mountains house a science lab studying dark matter. Quite fascinating!
Missy and Nas even managed to carry off a Bollywood musical ‘dream sequence’, dancing in a railway station while singing ‘the sun will come out tomorrow’. They deserve much better than this puerile ending: ‘Suddenly, a car runs them over.’ Any schoolchild could do better than that.
Professor Brian Cox was exuding the glee of a brainy third-former in a school science lab as he explained the cosmic forces that formed Saturn and its rings in The Planets (BBC2). In an Alpine elevator, descending from a mountain peak, he showed us how increasing air pressure can crumple a plastic bottle: ‘Physics in action — brilliant, innit?’
On Saturn, he said, the pressures are so immense that soot turns to liquid diamond and helium gases rain down like molten metal.
He was so excited that he even invoked religious imagery: Saturn’s rings, he said, looked, ‘as if a god had taken snowflakes and sprinkled them over a gravitational field so we could see it’.
By the end, he was practically levitating, blissed out on science. His joy was infectious.