Why is Sunday night drama such a misery-fest?

The Mill and then The Village. There’s only so much dirt-under-the-fingernails drama I can stand, says Alison Graham

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Why is Sunday night drama such a misery-fest?
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When the time comes, when death’s dark cloak wraps me in its woolly embrace and the Grim Reaper clears the ice crystals from his throat as he demands to know all the bad things I have done in my life, I will confess: “I laughed at The Village.”

I’m sure I’m not meant to laugh at The Village. I’m almost certain that this must mark me down as someone lacking heart and soul. Actually, I have more than enough of both so to heck with that, I find it funny. To me, it’s a parody, up there with one of my favourite comic novels, Cold Comfort Farm. No one actually says, “I saw something nasty in the woodshed,” like batty Ada Doom, but you feel they really ought to.

The Village is so po-faced it demands to be sent up. All that muck and poverty, with horny-handed farm workers up against ruthless toffs. There’s only so much dirt-under-the-fingernails drama I can stand before I want to dress up in diamonds and sneer at urchins in the street.

I had a big laugh when Julian Sands turned up in the first episode as a cruel toff, newspaper baron and Tory party bigwig. He’s introduced in the same way as Ralph Fiennes’s concentration-camp beast Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, taking pot-shots from a balcony, shirtless and clad in trousers and braces. (Message: he’s a FASCIST.)

He’s a git, who, after being humiliated by woman-of-the-soil Grace Middleton (Maxine Peake, quivering in a shawl), yells at her: “Middleton! I never forget a name!” I don’t know this, you understand, but I have a horrible feeling that he will exact revenge on Grace.

Channel 4’s The Mill precedes BBC1’s The Village on Sunday nights, so that’s two hours’ misery, though The Mill at least occasionally has sparks of humour. How could those men and women survive the fetid hell of a Victorian textile mill if they didn’t laugh occasionally?

But by heck, there’s no fun in The Village as the honest farming folk have the boots of evil toffs stamping on their faces for ever. This is Lark Rise to Candleford directed by Martin Scorsese.

I can’t blame anyone for The Village, though (and Maxine Peake has insisted this series will have more joy. Really?). Our appetite for seeking out misery both real and imagined in our pasts is voracious. Whether it’s Secrets from the Clink, The Secret History of Our Streets or Who Do You Think You Are?, we like a wallow in other people’s (historical) unhappiness.

By the way, I’m not viewing this having polished a whole drawer full of silver spoons. Bits of my ancestry make The Village look like Howards’ Way, so if you’re thinking of accusing me of lofty, ingrained middle-class disdain, born of centuries of privilege, then think again. 

But I wonder when and why misery became so fashionable. Maybe we all feel a bit guilty living in a country where we’re unlikely to be murdered by our own governments in a never-ending civil war. Maybe we like to punish ourselves for loving Bake Off.

Whenever it happened, I think it’s time to let a little light into this, before we fetishise joylessness and punish our ancestors for not living in the 21st century. Besides, as the remorseless, rolling sadness of the news re-inforces day in and day out, life should be celebrated and cherished. We need to smile. So I’ll keep laughing at The Village

The Village series two starts tonight at 8:00pm on BBC1