Thursday 30 August 2012

Patrick Stewart on WDYTYA - review

* Warning - if you have yet to see the third episode of Who Do You Think You Are, with Patrick Stewart as the subject, then the following will contain spoilers.*

Last week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are with Greg Wallace was a very enjoyable programme, and suggested that the low standards of the first episode might have just been a blip. Last night's episode, however, is probably the first edition that I thought worked as brilliantly as the very first episode with Bill Oddie, all those years ago when the series first started.

Like Bill Oddie's episode, this wasn't so much an episode of some half-baked celebrity on a quest for some CV enhancing family history package, but a story of one man on a quest for a simple thing - an explanation. As a lifelong Trekkie I went in hoping for the best from Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but this episode wasn't about a seriously famous actor (yes, WDYTYA does occasionally get them), this was about a young lad from Yorkshire who as a child had to stand between his mother and father to stop his father beating up his mother; a young boy who often wondered if his elder brother was a brother or a half-brother, and a young lad who heard many war stories from his father but who never twigged that his father's service time contributed towards the violent man he became in the home. Patrick Stewart wasn't looking for lost fortunes, claims to nobility, or even extraordinary periods of history - he was looking for his father, a man he had often been with but never really known.

The surprises were constant throughout, and it showed - a sudden promotion to sergeant for his father was news to the actor, as was his decision to join the Paras at the age of 38 and to help secure Allied victory through Operation Dragoon in France. But his father was also in other ways no hero at all - a man who joined the army to run away from fatherhood, and who had to be dragged before a court to acknowledge the same. In other respects his father was also a victim - the shell shock of the Second World War still as much of a stigma as that of the First World War. He was a thousand different things; in short, he was a human being, and as complicated a person as many.

There was no happy clappy ending. Patrick Stewart could not forgive his father for the violence towards his mother, but he had now gained an understanding that the man who became his father may well have been a very different man before the war than after it. Even his brother stated that he would have to go away and think about what he had been told of their father. But this brief forage into their family history touched upon the one thing that I think always works well on the series - the story of Patrick Stewart's father was as much about the story of Patrick Stewart himself, with one having a direct impact on the other. It was a story where the subject was not separated from his history by centuries and generations, but simply by a lack of understanding. To watch as he gained some of that understanding was a real privilege, in what may well turn out to have been the best ever episode of Who Do You Think You Are - Bill Oddie's episode aside of course!


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New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... (from June 12th 2012)

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