Guy Henry as Randolph (centre) with the cast of New Worlds. Photo: Channel 4
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New Worlds on Channel 4: Meet the poodle-haired rock gods of the Restoration

New Worlds, like The Devil’s Whore before it, fancies itself as a political drama. Why must it be silted up with all this Jean Plaidy-ish stuff?

New Worlds
Channel 4

Look back at the cast of The Devil’s Whore, Channel 4’s 2008 civil war epic, and the jaw drops: Dominic West, Michael Fassbender, Andrea Riseborough. I’m almost tempted to buy the box set and watch it all over again. The sequel – called New Worlds (Tuesdays, 9pm), which makes it sound more like a think-tank report than a sexy drama you’d stay in to watch – has a far less starry cast. On the plus side, it’s the Restoration now, so the wigs are amazing and every woman comes with creamy, overflowing breasts pretty much as standard. It’s like a Joan Collins convention gone wrong.

Let me try to set the scene. It’s the 1680s and Charles II (Jeremy Northam, enjoying himself mightily) has been on the throne for 20 years. Angelica Fanshawe, widow of the Leveller Edward Sexby, is now played by Eve Best (previously this was Andrea Riseborough’s role) and she has remarried: her husband is a Catholic but he is a good man, so this is OK.

In the kingdom, there is much turmoil. Judge Jeffreys (Pip Carter) is eagerly tracking down traitors, the better to keep his creaking rack busy. The people fear that Charles will be succeeded by his Catholic brother, James, under whose heel they would rather not live, so plotting abounds. Some are throwing their weight behind Charles’s bastard son, the duke of Monmouth, but others still long for a republic. Angelica Fanshawe, for instance, has been secretly sending money to New England, where Puritans are hiding the last of the regicides, William Goffe. Jeffreys regards her house in Oxfordshire as a nest of vipers, “sedition spread over its fields like dung”, and has dispatched a spy to investigate.

Is that everything? No. I’ve left out the peasants, who are hungry. Their land enclosed, they must work in the clay pits that produce the bricks for Charles’s extraordinary palaces. “Hear that?” says Abe (Jamie Dornan), an inhabitant of the forest that abuts the Fanshawe estate. “That’s the sound of chaos.” Abe misses Edward Sexby and has the hots for his daughter, Beth (Freya Mavor), whose political eyes he has opened, having taken her to gawp at the poor on their way to work.

It’s all rather exciting and the dialogue can at times be very good (it’s co-written by Peter Flannery of Our Friends in the North). But the whole thing has been ruined for me by the intrusion of various 21st-century love plots. New Worlds, like The Devil’s Whore before it, fancies itself as a political drama. It presents the viewer with a verbal dreamscape of equality whenever it can; when it comes to our early revolution, we sense pride and even longing on the part of its creators. So why must it be silted up with all this spoony Jean Plaidy-ish stuff? (For the benefit of younger readers: before there was Philippa Gregory, there was Jean Plaidy.)

Was it the money men who insisted there be stolen love letters and illicit across-the-class-divide snogs? Was it they who decreed that everyone must be beautiful, fragrant and white of teeth? (Beth, in particular, looks as though she has strolled out of an ad for Alice Temperley’s range for John Lewis.) One moment, we’re in some fetid cell with Jeffreys, his luxuriant wig wobbling with delight as a man’s eyes begin to bleed; the next, we’re peering through the gloom at Abe and Beth getting it on. Beth seems unbothered that Abe the poacher is more Harry Styles than Robin Hood; when he whispers to her that her heart will “tell her how to live”, she laps it up. Angelica should give her a good slap for historical inaccuracy and never mind about her risky new political views.

It probably goes without saying that the king, Monmouth and all the other poodle-haired rock gods of the Restoration are portrayed as stupid, vicious and somewhat camp. This is entertaining but I do think Flannery might have made them just a bit more nuanced. Or funny. Or properly, cleverly dirty, in the manner of John Wilmot, earl of Rochester. This goodies-and-baddies stuff is for kids, isn’t it?

No wonder I nearly fell off my seat when the action shifted to Massachusetts, where Goffe and his supporters were busy contending with some pretty angry Native Americans. Cromwell’s old faithful made a mighty earnest speech about their stolen land, it’s true, but when the Algonquin finally poured through the settlement gates they looked, to a man, terrifyingly like Keith Flint from the Prodigy.

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 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

MOVIESTORE COLLECTION/REX
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How Paul Giamatti changed the fate of Pinot Noir

The actor's prickly character in Sideways - a film about wine buffs - made us appreciate this tricky grape.

When Paul Giamatti, playing Miles in the 2004 film Sideways, started waxing lyrical about Pinot Noir, he changed his own fate and, surprisingly, that of the grape. It is hard to know which was more unlikely: the sexual interest of the beautiful, wine-loving Maya (Virginia Madsen) in this thin-skinned, temperamental loser, or the world’s heightened interest in this thin-skinned, temperamental grape.

“Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression,” Miles growled and, kapow: those patient winemakers suddenly found a bunch of film buffs queuing for their wine. Perhaps it was the character’s description of its flavours as “just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle . . . on the planet”. Perhaps it was the power of celebrity approval.

In fact, the correlation between finicky Miles and finicky Pinot is even closer than the script claims. Miles in California wine country doesn’t behave exactly like Miles back home in San Diego, and that is true of Pinot Noir, too. Everybody marvels at the tiny difference between one Burgundy vineyard and the next: how Pommard’s red wines have such power while those of Volnay next door have more elegance; how a wine such as Armand Rousseau’s Premier Cru Clos St Jacques – so good as to be almost indescribable – can differ in quality from surrounding Gevrey-Chambertins, which aren’t exactly shoddy either.

Perhaps the Sideways audience understood that no two of us are alike. Miles was talking about vulnerability, and the need to feel unique and uniquely cared for. No wonder Maya melted.

Given its variability and responsiveness, the best way to explore Pinot is to try several. So, I lined up bottles and drinkers from three continents and took a world tour without leaving the dinner table.

It seemed unfair to include a great Burgundy name, so I began with David Moreau’s Maranges 2014 from the southernmost part of the Côte d’Or. It had clean, redcurranty flavours but felt too young – trying to taste the terroir was like asking a lost toddler for their address. Still, when we moved on to a purplish Pinot from Bulgaria, a country still suffering the loss of the vast and uncritical Soviet market, the Maranges improved by comparison. We fled to America, where Oregon Pinots, particularly from the Willamette Valley, are much praised and steeply priced. Lemelson Vineyards’ “Thea’s Selection” 2013 was rich but lacked depth; I preferred the wild berries and marzipan of Elizabeth’s Reserve 2012 from Adelsheim Vineyard.

The difference between the two, just six miles apart, was their most interesting aspect, so we assembled another pair of neighbours: Ocean Eight 2012 and Paringa Estate 2013, both from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula, separated by a year and four zigzagging miles.

These are beautiful wines, the former full of blackberry, the latter spectacular, perfectly structured and with a scent to dab behind your ears. And here is the paradox of Pinot, which tastes of where it’s grown but is grown everywhere that stubborn individuals can persuade it to fruit.

The Mornington Peninsula is planted with Pinot because its patient winemakers claim their climate is similar to Burgundy’s – which would be hilarious if it weren’t, like Miles’s grandstanding, rather plaintive. This is a spit of land with water on three sides, ten thousand miles from France, as much like the landlocked Côte d’Or as I am like Virginia Madsen, which is to say that there are basic structural similarities but you’ll never mistake one for the other.

Ambition and imagination are qualities we don’t share with the vine – but plant those attributes in the right soil and the results can be delicious.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit