‘People trust us,’ claimed Lord Hall, recently. But like a lot of what you hear from the BBC these days I’m not sure that that is strictly accurate. The BBC’s shamelessly biased news coverage over Brexit was bad enough but what has really started in sticking in viewers’ craws is the way its relentlessly woke politics have now infected pretty much the entirety of its entertainment output. There is almost no escape from the BBC’s finger-wagging lectures, not even when it’s Christmas and you’re desperately trying to have fun.
As exhibit A, allow me to present A Christmas Carol. ‘Charles Dickens, Christmas and the BBC: what could possibly go wrong?’, you might have thought. To which the BBC replied: ‘Hold my beer!’ with a version which might have been written by the White Witch from the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe with the express purpose of sucking every last bit of joy from the season.
Actually it was written by Steven Knight, the creator of Peaky Blinders, with his characteristic sledgehammer nuance. Scrooge, we learned from this adult re-imagining, was the way he is because he had been sexually abused by his housemaster at school; and also because the one nice Christmas present he had ever had – a pet mouse – had been decapitated by his drunken father.
In Dickens, Scrooge is merely a grouch and a miser. But according to Knight’s account, he is in fact the Embodiment of the Evils of the Capitalist System. Scrooge makes his money – as of course everyone did in the early Victorian era – by cutting corners and asset stripping. One of his coal mines collapses because he refused to invest in sufficient wooden props; then he buys up a cotton mill at a knock down price because the owner is crippled with his father’s gambling debts, before selling it off at ten times the price the next day by breaking it up, sacking the workers and flogging all the equipment. It felt like being bludgeoned all over again with the crude, anti-Industrial-Revolution politics of Danny Boyle’s London Olympics ceremony.
Even #MeToo got a look-in. Scrooge hints to Mary Crachitt that he will only give her the money for Tiny Tim’s medical bills in return for her sexual favours. When she appears at his home and offers herself, he turns her down: it was the abject submission he was after, it seems, not the actual sex. As she leaves, she mutters bitterly about a woman’s power to call up vengeful spirits, or some such. I’m still not at all sure why this subplot was included, other than to signal that the author is totally onboard with feminism – just like he was with Peaky Blinders where he promoted women to positions of boardroom influence they would never have had in the period delineated.
On the upside, it was well-acted by a first-rate cast (led by Guy Pearce as Scrooge) and atmospherically directed by Nick Murphy, with all manner of spookily disturbing special effects and arresting imagery. I loved the Christmas-tree-land purgatory amid which the shade of Jacob Marley is doomed to wander until Scrooge repents; the Ali-Baba character who takes Scrooge on a camel ride through a snowy landscape to his old school; the scene where Scrooge sees in his ceiling Tiny Tim falling through the ice and drowning…
But all this only served to remind you just how captivating this production might have been if only the BBC hadn’t insisted on ruining it with all the tub-thumping lefty politics and the unnecessary swearing and gratuitous grisliness. Part of me almost admires the BBC’s cussed resistance to criticism, its determination to carry on insulting to the bitter end that large portion of its audience which doesn’t share its politically correct outlook. If I didn’t have to review the BBC’s output as part of my job, though, I think I would have given up paying my licence fee long ago.