When it comes to drama, I’m a slushy kinda gal. I like a bit of romance and 2014 hasn’t delivered much in the way of love. In cinemas – with the exception of The Fault in Our Stars – nothing has really ignited my interest. There’s been the underwhelming Begin Again, the painfully clichéd The Rewrite and the stupefyingly dull Magic in the Moonlight. And on telly, our obsession with killing and kidnapping never ceases. Beyond Last Tango in Halifax and Lady Mary’s love triangle, there’s precious little room for romance when Jamie Dornan is prowling across our screens.
So what a delight last night to stumble upon ardour when I least expected it. And no, there wasn’t a strapping hunk and lusting lady, no stolen glances or amorous advances. My favourite romantic drama of the year featured no humans whatsoever: it was set in the animal kingdom and narrated by David Attenborough.
Life Story – his most recent series – has it all. I throughly enjoyed the first four episodes charting the day-to-day dangers of nature, but yesterday’s story of animal courtship had me riveted. Because, as Attenborough pointed out, “success in nature is all about creating the next generation, whatever it takes.”
That might conjure up images of base animal instinct and females fighting off horny males – witness the green turtles’ battle to breed – but yesterday’s episode was also packed with more romance than a Shakespearean sonnet.
Take the male Japanese pufferfish: the plain Jane of the seabed with no bright colours or glow-in-the-dark skeleton with which to attract the ladies. That doesn’t stop him doing something quite extraordinary to earn their attention, building a crop circle on the ocean floor – a symmetrical, mesmerising nest he works 24 hours a day for a week to construct.
Then there’s the waved albatross, mating with just one partner for its entire 20-year lifespan. After three months separated at sea, both birds return to the Galapagos Islands and wait to see if the other has survived. The jubilant reunion we witnessed yesterday left me misty-eyed as Attenborough made the fond observation, “if love, as we understand it, exists in nature then surely this must be it.”
But it wasn’t all slushy romance. Courtship – in the animal kingdom, as in our own lives – is packed with that crucial ingredient for good drama: jeopardy. The chance to mate is often life-threatening as males fend off rivals for the chance to father the next generation. If you’re a seal, the attention of a female could also attract a brutal attack from an amorous opponent – or, in the case of a turtle, a firm bite on the bottom from a lurking competitor could put paid to any fornication.
Not forgetting the male peacock jumping spider, who quite literally danced for his life to score points with the opposite sex. His moves got him laid, although little did he know his partner had plans to make him her post-coital meal.
Romance? Tick. Danger? Tick. Comedy? Bottom bites aside, how about the long-tailed manakin who works with an apprentice to perform a well-rehearsed dance routine in perfect harmony… all to impress an eagle-eyed female observer. Unlucky for junior, only the master gets lucky but only if their performance goes off without a hitch.
As seen in the ten-minute filming diary that concludes each episode, these encounters are nigh-on impossible to capture. In both the TV and film industry there’s often access to gigantic budgets, cutting-edge technology and award-winning casts and crews. But, for me, it’s the work of Life Story’s production team that will stay with me – that and the jaw-dropping antics of nature’s cast. Fifty Shades has got nothing on this lot.
Life Story concludes next Thursday at 9:00pm on BBC1