Has there been a better thing on television in a long time? I really don't know because this is just so clever
. I can't even sum it up, just...
OK, so we start with the industrial revolution, with all its dark satanic mills and dreams for the future - are we Blake dreaming of a world without industry (just cricket), or Caliban!Brunel dreaming of a world of noise and riches? No matter the answer we go through to the 50s (ish) anyway, getting noise and darkness and yet achievement, the Olympic rings wrought out of steel.
We then get to 'Second to the Right and Straight on till Morning': the NHS, children, fantasy literature and the moment between sleep and waking - still caught up in dreams and nightmares. Through jazz and the outfits this is also definitely pitched as a historical transition between the Industrial Revolution and the digital age pageant later. It's like an investigation of what the Industrial Revolution produced - the end of infant mortality as a fact of life (labour, if we imagine child labour, transforms into children being looked after in bed and at GOSH) plus the rise of literacy. Put these two together and the main threat to childhood shifts from actual death to fantasy figures, Voldemort like a pantomime grim reaper and Mary Poppins the image of childcare and education. Everything ends happily like a fairy tale; 'childhood' as a safe bubble away from work and threat is banishable even as a nightmare. But this is even undercut by the nurses doing folk dances, as if they're pretending to still live in the idyll. Which we know has gone.
This establishment of childhood and safety then inevitably spreads to produce Youth Culture as a whole in the digital age, which gets it's own celebration in 'Frankie and June Say Thanks, Tim'. (The whole ceremony is about handing over to the next generation; the narrative of the show is about how that happened with cultural authority.) But even that's shadowed by this tension between illusion and reality (all the dancing backdropped by fictional representations of life that is constructed media culture, embellishing on children's literature), and this sense of darkness. I can't catch all the lyrics in the chronological montage, but it's so heavy once you get past the romance:( My sketched transcription... )
So even with this massive upheaval, from rural idyll through industrial pain through childhood's invention and welfare and Teh Yoof taking control; the shift in power from Top Hat Man to Multicultural Dancing Everyone, we're still caught up in this dark, fearful, shifting space between reality and illusion, dreams and hope and dissatisfaction. (The defiance in this section - And we don't care
/ I just think I'm free
/ We will be victorious
- only comes to segue into uncertainty - Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
... So, that's just how I read it (expressed very badly). But I can't help but think it's one of the most interesting national portraits I've seen in a long time. I like this bloke Boyle... :D
(God, I have do something today... Why haven't I done anything?)