Last Night's Television: The Labours of the Luvvie's Luvvie ; ARENA: THE MANY LIVES OF RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH BBC2
Hanks, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
As a film director, Richard Attenborough has always displayed a tendency to confuse artistic quality with piety, and piety with length. So, spreading this 80th birthday tribute over two evenings seemed the very least that Arena: The Many Lives of Richard Attenborough could do. Not that it felt padded out (well, not most of the time, but there were several purposeless sequences where the camera followed Lord Attenborough around as he circulated among his fellow great and good, confiding to them, "I'm being filmed by the BBC"). Even without longevity to help, Attenborough's dabbling energy would have made sure there was plenty to talk about.
At the start, the commentary announced that he is "one of the busiest public figures in the country". It soon became clear that even if this was hyperbole, Dickie still finds plenty to keep him occupied, making his presence felt as chairman of this, and patron of that, and president or chancellor of the other. Despite all this bustle, it was hard to see where the programme's title came from. On this showing, the most remarkable thing about Attenborough's life was how far it has been of a piece, how his film-making, his public works and his private life seem to have sprung from the same impulses: ambition and determination playing off an old- fashioned sense of public duty, with a sentimental streak somewhere in the mix.
In the Thirties, his leftish academic parents sponsored German refugees, and fostered two young Jewish sisters for eight years. Richard and his wife, Sheila, sponsor scholarships in Swaziland, and one of their students, Doctor Dlamini, now lodges with them. Doctor (his first name, not a title) was very charming, making it clear how unpatronised he feels. This is not what I would have expected from watching the films. Somebody here said, "He only makes films to say something": quite, which is why his films leave so little room for ambivalence or surprise, everything is laid out nicely so that you can spot who are the good guys, and who are the bad. …