Review: Perspectives Arts Documentaries

ITV’s new arts strand replaces the much-mourned, if little-watched South Bank Show.

Perspectives is the short-season documentary arts strand “providing unique, individual insights into the arts.” This season’s Perspectives consists of four single documentary films, each from different film-makers, featuring celebrity (but ‘non-arts’) presenters and contributors offering “their take on subjects that resonate within our culture.”

Both Ian McKellen on LS Lowry and Andrews Lloyd Webber’s film ‘A Passion for the Pre-Raphaelites’, offer ardent, revisionist views of newly fashionable British artists. The hour-long format allows McKellen and Lloyd Webber to tackle very different subject matter with the same the underlying aim; to take a fresh look at enduringly popular art that has consistently been derided and excluded by the art world.

Many of the stories in A Passion for the Pre-Raphaelites come from discussions of works owned by Lloyd Webber. McKellen travels the North of England, visiting, of course, the new Lowry Gallery. Both shows stamp this season with exactly the kind of personal, impassioned appreciation that Perspectives is aiming at; a popoular arts format, maybe not the opinion of art critics but of art lovers.

The third documentary is directed by Oscar-winning film-maker Jon Blair. Presented by Robson Green, himself the son of a Northumberland miner, Green returns to his roots to uncover the true story of the band of miners known as the Ashington Group, ordinary working men in the 1930s who organised an art appreciation class for themselves.

This group of untrained but powerfully expressive artists, lately documented in a book by William Feaver and a play by Lee Hall, learned to paint and drew critical praise. Like the McKellen Lowry episode, the film addresses the questions what makes an artist? Can anyone paint?

Green is a better actor than presenter, but made up for this with the very personal side to the story, visiting a coal-mine after his father vowed his sons would never work in one.

Much the same can be said for Hugh Laurie in his blues music film, Down by the River, which we covered separately although you have to concede Lauries music is better than Green’s painting. RC