TV reviews: Ackely Bridge + The Summer of Love

June 10 2017, 10.22amUpdated: June 8 2017, 8.35am
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Amy Leigh Hickman as Nasreen Paracha and Poppy Lee Friar as Missy Booth in Ackley Bridge.

ACKLEY BRIDGE + THE SUMMER OF LOVE: HOW HIPPIES CHANGED THE WORLD

ACKLEY BRIDGE: Wednesday, Channel 4

THE SUMMER OF LOVE: HOW HIPPIES CHANGED THE WORLD: Friday, BBC Four

If, by the time you read this, the Conservatives are still in power, cheer yourself up by picturing a typical Daily Mail reader being appalled by ACKLEY BRIDGE. You have to seek comfort wherever you can find it.

This new pre-watershed comedy-drama from Channel 4 depicts the merging of two hitherto segregated comprehensive schools in a Yorkshire mill town. An uneasy marriage of white and Asian communities ensues, although the mild tension between the two factions is based more on mutual unfamiliarity than actual prejudice.

Kids are used to multiculturalism, it doesn’t bother them, but they do love their established cliques.

The sympathetic yet irreverent tone was set by an opening scene in which two teenage girls, one white, one Asian, drank cider and quoted Einstein while sat on a sofa discarded in a skip. These kids are mouthy yet bright and for the most part likeable. Their teachers are young and progressive, but with problems of their own.

So far the prevailing storyline involves those aforementioned girls, best friends since childhood, suddenly finding themselves caught between groups from different cultural backgrounds. The white girl struggles with her drug-addicted mother, while her friend attempts to placate the judgemental gossip of her female Muslim peers.

No one is presented as a villain; it feels like an honest exploration of contemporary playground drama.

The white lad who espouses dubious UKIP doggerel is portrayed as eloquent yet confused. An aggressive cameo from his father suggested that this ambiguous lad is a disenfranchised victim of prejudice he’s picked up at home – prejudice he doesn’t fully understand.

Given its state-of-the-nation themes, Ackley Bridge could all too easily descend into well-meaning earnestness. Thankfully, it’s rescued by an astutely balanced lightness of touch which doesn’t undermine its essential sincerity.

Early days, of course, but I feel cautiously optimistic that Channel 4 have produced a thoughtful, accessible mainstream drama that should appeal to its potentially core audience of open-minded teenagers and adults.

If, into the bargain, it upsets the most awful people in the country, that can only be a good thing.

Conservatives still haven’t forgiven the ‘60s counterculture for impregnating western society with its filthy Marxist Commie creed of peace, love and equality.

That original hippie protest movement fomented a vigorous mistrust of powerful elites and a growing awareness of environmental issues. It encouraged people to question the motives of politicians, the police and the media, to expand their horizons and support social change.

They may have failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to war, but those stoned idealists triggered a cultural revolution of incalculable influence on subsequent generations. Not bad for a bunch of flower-munching longhairs.

In the excellent two-part documentary THE SUMMER OF LOVE: HOW HIPPIES CHANGED THE WORLD, an eloquent throng of ageing American radicals reflected on the Age of Aquarius with a candid mixture of nostalgia and regret.

They reminded us that, despite its egalitarian optimism, hippie ideology was underpinned with anger and anarchy. Critics dismissed them as naïve dreamers, but these tie-dyed kids were deadly serious.

Their heady stew of radical politics, rock music, eastern philosophy, organic living and hallucinogens did, for one brief, exciting moment, feel like the gateway to a better tomorrow.

It couldn’t last, of course, at least not in the form of a mass movement. Drug problems, internal hypocrisy, commercialisation and brutal government crackdowns quickly saw to that.

Yet as long as freedom of expression is permitted, their legacy endures.

TV HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

FEARLESS

Monday, STV, 9pm

This new thriller, created by a writer whose credits include Homeland and 24, stars Helen McCrory as a human rights lawyer who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy when she takes on the case of a man convicted of murdering a schoolgirl.

JO COX: DEATH OF AN MP

Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm

The brutal murder of conscientious Labour MP Jo Cox shocked the nation in 2016. This troubling documentary profiles her killer, a severely conflicted member of her constituency obsessed with Nazism and extreme right-wing politics.

BILLY CONNOLLY: PORTRAIT OF A LIFETIME

Wednesday, BBC One, 9pm

On the eve of his 75th birthday, the legendary comedian reflects on his remarkable 50-year career as he sits for specially commissioned portraits by Scottish artists John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel MacLean.

WIFE SWAP: BREXIT SPECIAL

Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

This one-off edition of the combative reality show pitches two couples – one who voted to remain in the EU, the other staunchly behind Britain’s exit – against each other. Will the experience change their minds about Brexit?

FILM OF THE WEEK

FULL METAL JACKET

Tuesday, ITV4, 10pm

The penultimate film by visionary director Stanley Kubrick, this mesmerising Vietnam drama is a flawed masterpiece. The first half, in which a group of young recruits endure harsh training under the foul-mouthed dominance of a tough Marine drill sergeant, is far more effective than the extended war sequence that follows. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful anti-war statement delivered with the director’s customary visual flair and devastating lack of sentiment. It’s even more impressive when one considers that the whole film was shot on British soil.

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