TV outdoes artbooks for Van Gogh

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 13:22 12/12/2012
Benedict Cumberbatch Van Gogh

Benedict Cumberbatch as a young Vincent van Gogh depicts the painter's early experiences.

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It's becoming a bit hard to find a good programme or movie that Benedict Cumberbatch is not in. His latest is Van Gogh: Painted with Words, Arts Channel, Mondays.

From Sherlock to The Hobbit to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he has displayed an astonishing range, despite his superficially limiting choirboy's face.

It takes a while to get the hang of him as an unlined, non-craggy Vincent van Gogh, but this six-part production is so rich in detail that it quickly ceases to matter.

The series relies heavily on the painter's letters to his brother, Theo, and it's these words Cumberbatch enacts, in snatches of drama throughout what is an extended documentary.

It takes the viewer to the places the young van Gogh lived and visited, focusing on his early experiences studying the Turners and Rembrandts in London's art museums and tracing the influence of British poets and writers in his early struggles to be accepted into the church.

And it shows us the miserable Arles asylum where he was locked up after the psychotic episode in which he severed part of his ear.

For anyone with a high-definition television set, the lingering close-ups of his vivid, troublingly ebullient paintings are evidence that television can sometimes do better than even a good-quality art book.

It would be remiss not to salute Campbell Live's driving dogs. It won't help fund the deficit or feed the hungry, but sometimes when a bit of light current affairs has this much appeal, you've just got to run and run with it.

The ingenious sales pitch, that mutts are smart and trainable, has produced some of the year's most globally celebrated television.

The sight of shaggy Monty, the giant schnauzer-cross, with his tongue slightly out in aid of concentration, tootling along in the modified mini as though it were the most natural thing in the world, will melt the polar ice caps if we're not careful.

He was a rehome candidate after his owners found him too hard to train. Little did they realise he could be doing the school run.

Beardie-cross Porter, who looks the sort of rascally-looking dog Disney casts as a street gang leader, drove with a truckie's insouciance, and that deadpan intelligence that dogs do so much better than humans.

Already there are demands for driving cats, but they would never submit to the give-way rule.

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