CHRISTOPHER STEVENS TV review: Baked, slashed and boiled – who’d be an Attenborough cameraman?

A Perfect Planet 

Rating:

The latest Attenborough spectacular is usually launched to the Press a month before it airs on the Beeb, at a screening in a hotel cinema. There’s warm wine, shiny brochures, the lot.

An assembly of journalists watches the first episode with surround sound loud enough to make everybody’s ears ring. A question-and-answer session follows on stage, with producers, directors and the great naturalist himself.

This time was different. We tuned in via Zoom, using the split-screen video software BBC News loves so much. 

In one box was Sir David, in front of an impressively stocked bookcase in his home. 

Attenborough cameraman Matt Aeberhard shot a clip in 55c heat, of flamingos flocking by the million at the salt bed of Lake Natron in Tanzania

Attenborough cameraman Matt Aeberhard shot a clip in 55c heat, of flamingos flocking by the million at the salt bed of Lake Natron in Tanzania

In the window next to him was interviewer Liz Bonnin, and below them sat veteran wildlife film-maker Alastair Fothergill, who was having problems with his microphone and spent most of the hour mouthing silently, like Marcel Marceau.

The fourth box was empty for 15 minutes, until cameraman Matt Aeberhard arrived — and the Q&A became instantly far more interesting than anything a hotel stage could offer.

Matt was in Africa, dialling in from a hut in what he described as ‘the monkey capital of the world’ — Kibale in Uganda.

We’d just marvelled at a clip Matt shot in 55c heat, of flamingos flocking by the million at the salt bed of Lake Natron in Tanzania. 

This sequence, the highlight of the opening episode, was kaleidoscopically beautiful: Sir David called it ‘one of the most extraordinary I have seen on TV’.

This sequence, the highlight of the opening episode, was kaleidoscopically beautiful: Sir David called it 'one of the most extraordinary I have seen on TV'

This sequence, the highlight of the opening episode, was kaleidoscopically beautiful: Sir David called it ‘one of the most extraordinary I have seen on TV’

Hilariously offhand, Matt described the problems of filming in ‘the foulest place on Earth’, where the gloopy, sulphurous mud is as poisonous as bleach. The salts dry into razor-edged crystals that slash your legs, he said, causing sores that can take months to heal.

Filming there meant sitting all day in a hide as hot as a sauna, wearing snow shoes to prevent his feet from sinking into the mud. ‘You get covered in salt, which dries and leaves you looking like the ghost of Sid Vicious. It is,’ he concluded, ‘a cool place to work’.

The footage he captured made all his suffering worthwhile. Also outstanding were the shots of hundreds of brown bears on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, gorging on salmon while boiling geysers burst up from the rocks.

Cameraman Rolf Steinmann took a step backwards and put his foot in a blistering hot pool. He kept filming — but when he returned home, he needed a skin graft.

When you watch the rest of this series (and it’s too good to risk missing a single minute), spare a thought for the exceptional people who make it possible.

The Serpent

Rating:

Missing a minute of The Serpent (BBC1) is dangerous because you’ll lose your place in its timeline. The narrative sways like a pendulum from the end of the story . . . to the start . . . to four months later . . . to two months earlier.

Coiled at the heart of The Serpent (BBC1) are the tales of two couples: Alain and his damaged, desperate girlfriend Marie-Andree (pictured together), and amateur detectives Herman and Angela

Coiled at the heart of The Serpent (BBC1) are the tales of two couples: Alain and his damaged, desperate girlfriend Marie-Andree (pictured together), and amateur detectives Herman and Angela

Its effect is like the moment psychopathic jewel dealer Alain (Tahar Rahim) scatters a bag of gemstone fragments across a desktop. It’s dazzling and fascinating but you hardly know where to look.

Coiled at the heart of The Serpent are the tales of two couples: Alain and his damaged, desperate girlfriend Marie-Andree, and amateur detectives Herman and Angela (Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber). 

But as their paths haven’t yet crossed, writer Richard Warlow has to leap back and forth in time between them.

It would have been simpler to concentrate at first on Marie-Andree. She is portrayed with gut-wrenching intensity by Jenna Coleman as a girl without family or friends who is losing the only thing she has left — her soul. A hypnotic performance.

Cheeky patter of the night: Cliff Richard paid tribute to his mate Jimmy Tarbuck in The Laughs Are On Me (C5). ‘Could we appear at the Palladium together again?’ Cliff mused. ‘Why not? We’re available . . . but neither of us is cheap.’ Encore!

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