CLAUDIA CONNELL: This complex gold rush tale is missing its shine

CLAUDIA CONNELL reviews the weekend’s TV: Confused? This complex gold rush tale is missing its shine

The Luminaries

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Lost Pyramids Of The Aztecs

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Flashback, as a method of bridging time and filling the viewer in on a narrative, can be a highly effective method in film.

If overused though, it can be frustrating, confusing and downright annoying.

In new BBC drama The Luminaries, the time-jump trick was constantly employed to the point where it started to fry your brain.

The first of six episodes opened with Anna Wetherell (played by Eve Hewson) running along a beach in the dead of night. 

Eve Hewson, as Anna, wasn’t called upon to do much more than stare and pout in the opening episode

Her clothes were in rags, a man lay dead, and what appeared to be liquid gold, rather than blood, was oozing from her wounds.

Nine months prior to that, Anna, a bold Irish woman travelling alone to New Zealand to seek her fortune at the height of the gold rush, stood on the deck of a boat where she met prospector Emery Staines (Himesh Patel). He invited her to meet for a drink at his hotel after their arrival. She never showed.

Instead, she hurried to her own lodgings but on the way encountered Lydia Wells (Eva Green), a bewitching brothel owner and fortune teller who stole Anna’s purse knowing it would mean she had no choice but to work for her as a prostitute.

Nine months prior to that, Anna, a bold Irish woman travelling alone to New Zealand to seek her fortune at the height of the gold rush, stood on the deck of a boat where she met prospector Emery Staines (Himesh Patel)

Based on the Man Booker Prize- winning novel, author Eleanor Catton adapted her work for TV and made drastic changes from what was a complicated, 832-page oeuvre divided into 12 parts and centred around signs of the zodiac and celestial charts.

If the plan was to make it easier to follow, then it failed. The mystery and mysticism that dominated the book had been chipped away but there was still too much unfathomable talk about ‘astral twins’ and ‘cosmic fingerprints’.

Hewson, as Anna, wasn’t called upon to do much more than stare and pout in the opening episode, and if Emery Staines really was — as we were led to believe — her astral twin, her soulmate and her destiny, then there was precious little chemistry between them in the one scene they shared.

The excitement of the gold rush, the dangerous characters it attracted and the hot, dusty, dirty towns they inhabited were all conveyed well. 

Shot on location in New Zealand, the scenery was beautiful, it’s just a shame that the story was an unfathomable mess.

By contrast, trying to work out how on earth the Aztecs built pyramids 700 years ago with no metal tools, horses or wheeled vehicles was a doddle.

In part one of Lost Pyramids Of The Aztecs (Channel 4), American archaeologist David Walton wanted to know how this ancient civilisation had managed to build an entire city (in what is now modern-day Mexico City) with a 60-metre high pyramid — Templo Mayor — at its centre. 

They may have been primitive and brutal, but the Aztecs’ engineering skills were extraordinary, and so Walton and Mexican archaeologist Lucas Cantu set about attempting to build a replica pyramid of their own — albeit a scaled-down version.

With no alphabet, the Aztecs made incredibly detailed drawings that showed every aspect of their life, from what they wore and ate to how they carved stone and carried it.

In part one of Lost Pyramids Of The Aztecs (Channel 4), American archaeologist David Walton wanted to know how this ancient civilisation had managed to build an entire city (in what is now modern-day Mexico City) with a 60-metre high pyramid — Templo Mayor — at its centre

Volcanic rocks were quarried using chisels made from rock and glass and the huge slabs were lugged in baskets by porters who walked for days carrying the 40kg or so stones.

David and Lucas had to cheat and use metal tools in order to lay the foundations and first layer of their pyramid, which they were rather chuffed with.

‘I think the Aztecs would be pleased,’ said David. I think (if the drawings were any indication), they’d have sliced his heart out and offered it to the Gods.

Quiz answer of the week:  General knowledge wasn’t the strong suit of the pair who failed to win the jackpot on Strike It Lucky, revived in Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow

They thought ‘taramasalata’ was a type of spider.

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