Out of Africa

Rhodes is an epic new drama from the BBC which digs up the murky foundations of the British empire in southern Africa. Eddie Gibb talks to its creator, Antony Thomas.

From the publicity handout which promises ‘the extraordinary story of one man who shaped the destiny of a continent'. to the swelling strings of the musical score. Rhodes is a serial which has ‘epic' written all over it. Running to 450 minutes of costly costume dratna. filmed entirely on location in South

‘The reason the Rhodes story is so fascinating for me is it begins with a

for Africa and who had utter respect for Africans, and the descent of that man forms the tragic arc of the story,’

Africa. and using l0.000 local actors and extras. it represents a £i0 million investment from the BBC. And all this for a man who is widely acknowledged as the forefather of apartheid and an embodiment of the worst excesses of the British empire. So not an obvious candidate for TV canonisation, then.

‘I feel the only way you can make a clean break and start again is by dealing with your own past.’ says writer Antony Thomas. a radical documentarist who was brought up in South Africa and banned from the country for twenty years until 1990. ‘if the Germans

young man who had an instinctual feeling

s f ' 1-." r... '1 “I I“ V

had been as secretive about Adolf Hitler as we have been about Cecil Rhodes. they would have been living in a miasma of half truths and dreams of faded glory when they owned the whole of Europe. i think it’s terribly important to know the truth about your past.‘

Cecil Rhodes was born an English parson‘s son in I853. but by his late teens had travelled to South Africa where his older brother was the drunken manager ofa mine in the country‘s fledgling diamond industry. He saw the possibilities to make both a huge fortune and paint a significant chunk of the continent with the red mark ofempire. It wasn't long before he almost single-handedly controlled the world‘s diamond trade. an empire built on the blood and

Rhodes: Martin Shaw in stuy of evil

sweat of the native Africans. Rhodes (Martin Shaw) is portrayed as a visionary man corrupted by power. wealth and ajingoistic sense of national superiority. 'What would God want in the world‘." asks the young Rhodes. played by Shaw‘s real-life son Joe. ‘He would want it well run. I will devote the rest of my life to God‘s purpose making it English.‘

Like Rhodes. Thomas was a son of the empire who was brought up to believe the Victorian capitalist and coloniscr was a ‘symbol ofeverything that was noble about being British'. As an adult who supported the African National Congress during the 60s. Thomas discovered a rather different truth about Rhodes' tnalign influence on southern Africa. particularly on the new colony that was named after him Rhodesia.

‘Making the documentary took tne back to my childhood and filled me with self-disgust because Rhodes was part of my own identity.‘ says Thomas. But he believes that simply detnonising the man prevents a real understanding of the forces of greed and racial division he unleashed on the region.

‘The reason the Rhodes story is so fascinating for

‘Making the documentary took me back

to my childhood and filled me with self-

disgust because Rhodes was part of my own identity,’

tne is it begins with a young tnan who had an instinctual feeling for Africa and who had utter respect for Africans. and the descent of that man forms the tragic arc of the story.‘ says Thomas. ‘Thc one-dimensional story of a villain would give me no satisfaction as a writer. The fact that a man of his perception and feelings should have perverted them in a course that was ultitnately tragic for Africa makes a much finer story than sotne thug who comes out and slits throats from the day he arrives.

‘I'm proud that he is a hero in the first episode because that‘s what that boy was. and what he becomes is all the more profoundly tragic when you know how he started. That's what the true study of evil should be about the perversion of all that is line.‘

Rhodes begins on Sun I 5 Sept on BBC] and is repeated on Sals.

Stop! Police! Emotion!

Altlroegh the excellent one-off drama Beardiens is being shown as part of Channel 4's Talenfspoffing season, Scettish director and writer Bill Andersu has already been well and truly spotted, after his film Creature efllgfrfwas chosen as the surprise winner of the newcomers award at the Edlnhergh Film Festival in 1992. ‘A m inry fell irrationally in love withltbetitdldn'tdowycareera hege meant ef geed,’ he laughs. After feer years of directing Items

for Good Morning with Anne and flick and other unmemorable daytime shows, his next project has finally made it to the screen, but he won’t have to wait so long again. On the strength of Guardians, he was chosen to direct Alan Rleasdale’s next series Melissa, a six-patter about a hard- nosed PR girl. it’s easy to see why Anderson was selected; rather than being a film that happens to be shown on television, this self- contalned story has all the hallmarks of good TV, combining a compelling storyline with an underlying fascination with human psychology.

moving the drama on to the real subject matter - a sexual abuse investigation against the backdrop of the relationship between the apparently heroic detective Jim Reed (Jason lsaacs) and his beat cop father (Maurice RoEves). We’re talking subtexts here, folks.

‘When we were moving from script to production, people kept asking me how we could make sure it doesn’t look like cracker or Prime Suspecf,’ says Anderson. ‘But I said it’s really about fatherhood and if you kept your eye on that ball then it would look different. The motivation for writing

Opening with a classic cop show Guardians came from the realisation set-up as a policeman disarms a that you can love your kids more than gunman, the first five ntlnntes draw you can protect thent.’ (Eddie Gibb)

"" the viewer into a familiar genre. Telenfspefflng: Boardlens Is on Sen mm'fi'mv Wm? Anderson's skill is in seamlessly issoptuep-ucnanneu.

? 70 The List 6-l9 Sept l996