The plots of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Enemy at the Door take time, but they’re worth it
Here in the sticks, the continuation of lockdown is inducing ever more grandiose and recherché forms of fantasy: now, I fancy myself to have something of Joan Didion and Patti Smith about me as I sit and watch the television in the evenings. Sadly, the similarity is confined to what, in my childhood, was called the idiot box, but which I now regard as a portal to somewhere other than the surrounding lanes and fields. Didion, I remember, as I binge-watch episodes of dramas and comedies excavated from the past by genius cultural magpies such as archive specialists Talking Pictures, spent a whole summer watching the prisoner-of-war saga Tenko; Patti Smith is a fan of Midsomer Murders and other cosies which, while recently made, might as well be relics from a bygone age for all they seem to draw on contemporary life.
It’s been an odd week to complete a rewatch of the late 1970s ITV serial Enemy at the Door, which centres on the relationships between the German forces and the people of Guernsey during the occupation of the Channel Islands in the second world war. The deranged cultural commodification of the period as it is still applied to particular national football fixtures is utterly at odds with the painstaking moral explorations of the programme, in which the line between cooperation and collaboration is constantly being tested. We are now as far away in time from its making as Enemy at the Door was from the war itself, and yet we seem to understand the past even less clearly.