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Baby shambles

Baby shambles

Sunday 24 April 2005 01.37 BST

'That's not a spatula, that's a fucking whisk!' I was inadvertently reminded of Gary Rhodes's comment (made during Monday's Hell's Kitchen) while watching C4's Born With Two Mothers. in which the almost definitively Anglo-Saxon Laura Mayfield (Lesley Sharp) gave birth to a beautiful, bouncing and very black baby boy called Joe. Euphemistically, then, definitely not a spatula, much more of a whisk.

The film was a genre-busting, new reality, docudrama hybrid-type-thingy, with the four central parts being played by actors and the supporting roles taken by real solicitors, doctors, judges and social workers. The actors improvised around the considered professional responses of the non-actors and the whole thing was, in its own clunky and overly contrived way, entirely compelling, though this may have been because of the awesome moral and ethical dilemma at the heart of the story. Which was that two IVF-seeking couples - one white, one black - found themselves on the end of a professsional cock-up of gobsmackingly distressing proportions when the black couple's fertilised egg was implanted in the white woman. She carried the baby to term, while labouring, literally, under the delusion that there was only 'a very tiny chance this is not your baby'.

When Laura gave birth, her husband, James (Adam Kotz) wore an expression that said 'this is definitely a spatula and not a fucking whisk', while Laura didn't seem remotely disappointed, or indeed terribly surprised and would clearly have settled for a tin-opener.

I didn't buy this. I think most women who had given birth to a black baby when they were banking on a white one - and even those who had undergone numerous failed courses of IVF - might have felt that, at the very least, the bonding process was going to be slightly protracted, even if they believed they would get there in the end. Of the many emotions that jostle for pole position after a woman gives birth to a healthy baby there is a frankly triumphal, happy-hormone-induced, air-punching 'I helped make this perfect thing! How completely clever am I!' feeling. Narcissistic? Sure - but also entirely human. Though based on a real, widely reported case (at least before the court injunctions kicked in), Born With Two Mothers could have taken a less tricksy route by telling the story as a straight drama, though this would have left viewers wondering if the final judgment hadn't been dictated by the desire for a dramatic ending. Putting the ethical nightmare in the hands of real people rather than writers meant that we got a more emotionally satisfying resolution, even if we have no idea of the 'real' outcome.

I would pretty happily watch Lennie James and ('Oscar-nominated' as the trailers were keen to point out) Sophie Okonedo guest-starring in Michael Winner's esure ad, but to see them getting to grips with subject matter as monumentally meaty as this was always going to be a treat. They made a lovely couple, too - though by making them just as dinky and devoted to each other and as middle-class and professional as their white counterparts was clearly a device to make the decision-making process a bit easier.

There was, after all, nothing to divide your opinion of either of these couples aside from the colour of their skin, and while the outcome felt like the 'correct' one (in as much as there could be a correct outcome when one - and possibly two - people were inevitably going to be devastated) it would have been much more morally taxing for the decision-makers if either of the potential claimants had lived on the 27th floor of a sink-estate tower block. As it turned out, the black couple, Lucretia and Errol, appeared to 'win' their biological son more on the grounds of their cultural suitability to raise him as 'a black man' (a nicely impassioned speech from Lennie) than because they were actually responsible for every single strand of his DNA - were, in fact, his parents - which seemed pretty absurd.

Despite having provided a warm, nutritious and nurturing rental-home for nine months of Joe's life, Laura's claim was always going to be shaky because her husband had no biological or emotional stake in Joe at all, despite putting on a brave ('Whisks? I love a whisk!') face. What was most fascinating about the outcome, however, was that it meant that giving birth to a baby no longer automatically guarantees that the woman is the mother - merely that she is a mother. Or, in my case, possibly just a mutha.

William and Mary. ITV1's cockle-warming contrivance (as an undertaker he dispatches, as a midwife she hatches. Put them together and - all together now! - it's like something written by Tim Rice and Elton John for The Lion King) returned for a third series last week and I think I probably loathe it more now than I did before, if that were possible.

I regularly have a pop at shows starring Martin Clunes, which is odd because I think Clunes is rather great - it's just that my inner Victor-Victoria Meldrew can't stomach the ickily sentimental stuff he seems to like so much. And, truly, William and Mary is as altogether gagsomely-icksville as a family of Beanie Babies tragically drowning in a vat of liquidised Haribo. For the first - ooh, I dunno - 10 minutes, plot was forsaken in favour of the dreadful sitcom-style cliche of 'the family doing chaotic breakfast'. On and on it went (baby food on Dad's smart suit? Check). Whatever. Stop it. No, really. Stop it now because it wasn't funny or clever or even particularly heartwarming in Life with the Lyons or Butterflies or 2.4 Children or My Family or a thousand other equally inaccurate versions of domestic trivia spanning the entire lifetime of television. If I want breakfast chaos, I'll watch Supernanny or Little Angels or Wife Swap. What I'm after in a drama - even saccharine comedy drama-lite - is a plot. Anyway, the plot, when it arrived, as ever revolved around a high-concept death and a birth. The death was that of a young right-on female student, from meningitis.

The high concept was that her dad was a vicar and she had been an atheist, thus her dispatch had to be organic and secular. As we only met the deceased when she was already dearly departed, it was impossible to care whether or not, thanks to William, she got the funeral of her dreams, though she did, buried in a wooded glade in a basket-weave coffin accompanied by an invisible yet glutinous choir.

Meanwhile Mary was battling hospital bureaucracy trying to organise a home birth for a congenitally blind couple. Though there was no getting away from the actors' verisimilitude in these roles, this was, it should be said, largely due to the fact that they were congenitally blind rather than because they had any acting ability whatsoever. Which made scenes that were intended to be cockle-warming actually quite excruciatingly stagey and self-conscious - notably when the woman went into labour ('I'm worried! I quite like it! I like the pain!' Ooh, stop it, you are just weird) when it looked as though we'd stumbled into a special acting workshop for the singularly untalented.

And of course if I want to watch the singularly untalented, I'll watch Hell's Kitchen. which has returned for a second series sadly without the added value of Gordon Ramsay's tried-and-tested ratings-grabbing menu of profanities and a kitchen full of B-list celebrities. Instead this time around we have the double-culinary-whammy of the hammy Gary Rhodes ('Probably the best chef that Britain has ever had' according, rather surprisingly, to Albert Roux Jr) and the well-hung Jean-Christophe Novelli ('driven by emotion, cooks from his heart' sayeth Marco Pierre White). Both are pretending to be Scary Chef and fooling no one at all. It's obvious Rhodes doesn't do shouty because he almost lost his voice on the first day, while Novelli doesn't bark so much as purr, deliciously.

I thought a bunch of real people would make a pretty poor substitute for Abi Titmuss but in fact they're just as entertaining, in their own sweet ordinary little ways. But they are also very far from being the point of the exercise because the real entertainment is in watching the original, artlessly contrived, reality-show faux 'rivalry' between Rhodes and Novelli actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Though both chefs will originally have signed-up to Hell's Kitchen for a bit of a laugh (and a fat cheque), by next week the 'battle' promises to have developed into Sabatiers-at-sundown in which the entente will be palpably uncordiale. The producers must be licking their lips: they might not have a spatula on their hands, but they've sure as hell got a very big whisk.

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