Reviewed: Heading Out; Food, Glorious Food

The great British rip-off.

Heading Out; Food, Glorious Food
BBC2; ITV

Sue Perkins, the one with dark hair from The Great British Bake Off, has written a sitcom, in which she also stars. It’s called Heading Out (Tuesdays, 10pm), and it’s about a 40-yearold vet who is too scared to tell her nice middle- class parents – and you really don’t get nicer or more middle-class than Harriet Walter, who plays her mum – that she is a lesbian.

Are you convinced by this set-up? I’m not. I mean, a friend of mine came out when we were 18, in Sheffield, in 1987, at a school where you were basically a social outcast if you didn’t look and act like Shirley from Wham! Would a funny and assertive 40- year-old vet in the south of England in 2013 who isn’t married (I mean to a man), and doesn’t have children, really find it so terribly hard to say the words “I’m gay” to her loving, if somewhat conventional (and, er, possibly blind), parents? I don’t think she would, though do feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. It may be that I am just too damned liberal for my own good.

It’s a pity the set-up is so dodgy, because it’s quite funny otherwise. The flip side of my extreme liberality is an urgent desire to laugh at people who are overly sentimental about animals – I’m a real Jekyll and Hyde type, on the sly – so jokes about dead cats and pet crematoria are, alas, right up my street. Sara (Perkins) is a superbly hopeless vet: the kind who keeps a stiff moggy in her fridge – it’s a long story – and who can barely hide her derision when soppy owners from the Liz Jones school of feline husbandry start going on about arnica and Rescue Remedy.

The show has a nice supporting cast, too: Nicola Walker (Spooks) plays Justine, Sara’s friend on the netball team, and Joanna Scanlon (The Thick of It) is the batty life coach who is going to help her pluck up the courage to tell her parents that her new boyfriend is in fact a girlfriend. Maybe, then, it’ll settle down as it goes along; maybe it’ll become so hilariously funny I’ll be able to forget all about the 40-year-old closeted lesbian aspect of it. I hope so, because Perkins is a good sort.

Certainly, she seems a better sort than Carol Vorderman, the presenter of Food, Glorious Food (Wednesdays 8pm), ITV’s dimwitted and pathetic attempt to grab a slice of Bake Off’s audience. Oh, man, this show is bad. What, I wonder, do I most despise about it? Is it that the winner’s dish – any recipe will do, sweet or savoury, and the more ghastlysounding the better – will be developed and sold by Marks & Spencer at a time when our faith in ready meals has reached rock bottom? Or is it the fact that one of the “expert” judges, the charmless Anne Harrison of the WI, admitted in the first episode that she did not know what a Staffordshire oatcake was? Or maybe it’s the realisation that her colleague Tom Parker Bowles doesn’t seem embarrassed to be described as “food-writing royalty”?

It has no drama and no focus; the standard is so desperately low, it’s patently obvious who is going to win each round and, since anything goes, you have pheasant paprikash competing against Pimm’s jelly and Welsh cawl, which is just dumb. The producers seem to have chosen contestants mostly so we can laugh at them, Britain’s Got Talent style (Simon Cowell’s company makes this series). In the first episode, we had a mother and son who wear Victorian dress full-time and apparently without irony; a woman who makes fermented cabbage by crushing it beneath her bare feet; and a woman who thinks that Loyd Grossman, another of the judges, looks like Sean Connery. (And while we’re on the subject of Grossman, he appears to have insisted his OBE be added to his name on the credits, which isn’t very cool at all.)

As for Vorderman, though she has swapped her Galaxy dress for something a little more Cath Kidston, she appears to be about as interested in cooking as I am in who wins this shameless, muddled rip-off. Honestly, I would rather wear Anne Harrison’s giant purple body warmer to lunch at Claridge’s with Brad Pitt than watch this show again.

Sue Perkins in Heading Out. Photograph: BBC

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 04 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Pistorius

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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era