I missed last week’s opener, but according to MediaGuardian’s report of the viewing figures Billie Piper’s introduction to the secret life of Belle de Jour was an instant hit, attracting 1.8 million viewers and providing the channel’s biggest audience in 13 months not to mention being the best rating non-terrestrial commission so far this year. But as that article points out, this series has been heavily trailed and the heady combination of a scantily-clad Piper in a story basically concerning sex and the different ways men want it was hardly likely to be a wallflower.
This week’s story (and I use the term loosely, because the plot was skimpier than Piper’s little-black-something) was full of atmospheric and claustrophobic camera work and was indeed beautiful to look at from every angle, but I’ll be very interested to see how the overnight viewing figures stack up against last week’s. From what I saw there’s very little here to hold the interest of anyone who doesn’t have a Nuts subscription.
Much was made in the days and weeks before this lineup of lustful lingerie tripped titillatingly across our televisions of how hard Billie Piper had found it to perform the sex scenes. So either she’s a much better actress than I (or even she!) realised, or the acting wasn’t that much of a stretch for her. She appeared to be perfectly at home and delivered her lines as naturally as lines delivered direct to camera ever can be.
I didn’t like it in Alfie (either the 1966 or the 2004 versions) and the technique has not improved in the intervening 40 years, but she carried it off passably well. The trouble was no amount of dramatic monologue, or lush costumery, or plush sets or tricksy camera direction could hide the fact that there isn’t much story here. To fill an entire half-hour with the vacuous goings-on at an “adult club for partners” was more an exercise in endurance that entertainment – a frighteningly accurate metaphor for the party itself, come to think about it.
So what is there to bring you back for another helping. Billie looks great, sure, but not that great, and if you want to watch sex there are far more entertaining offerings available than anything ITV2 would dare to air. This might work as an exercise in cultural iconography but beyond that, as a drama, it’s as flat as a pair of fried eggs.