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Strictly Come Dancing: The Final, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Strictly Come Dancing: The Final, BBC One

Strictly Come Dancing: The Final, BBC One

Forget costume drama, reality television is the place to go for great stories

Dancing queen: Kara Tointon and partner Artem Chigvintsev lift the 2010 'Strictly' trophy

It’s been a journey, an emotional rollercoaster, since 14 soap stars and sports personalities abandoned reality three months ago, donned a series of spandex and chiffon outfits and embarked upon the most important experience of their lives. They all gave it 110 per cent, took disappointment on the chin and came back fighting, and last night the three finalists battled it out for the ultimate prize – the Strictly Come Dancing 2010 glitterball trophy. “Who’d have thought a bit of ballroom dancing could mentally change you?” asked a teary Kara Tointon, and as viewers across the country blotted hankies and clutched the remote for comfort, the question lingered: what is the secret of Strictly?

It’s the same every year. Each autumn we find ourselves claiming that this time will be different, that Saturday night will not reliably find us soldered to the sofa investing emotional energy in the singing/dancing/all-round entertaining ambitions of stars we’d never heard of two months earlier. We may define ourselves by our preference, whether we are X Factor fans or Strictly devotees, and believe that we are tuning in to watch a little dancing or listen to some music, but our addiction and fascination isn’t really with either of these things.

In a season that has given us the disappointing period posturing of Any Human Heart, the hysterical melodrama of U Be Dead and The Little House, and – dare to speak it – the risible plotlines of Downton Abbey, it’s little wonder that we find ourselves turning to Strictly and the like for narrative consolation. Abandoning the rat-ridden ship of expensive television drama for the brave new world of reality television, writers must today reinvent themselves as editors and “story producers” if they hope to get their narrative fix from the naturalistic arcs and journeys of life.

mattAh the “journey”, that most flaking and desiccated of reality-television metaphors, battered with the inevitability of a sausage in a Glasgow chip shop by every hopeful, judge and presenter within a mile of this genre. It may be maddening and entirely predictable, but this is a story that will never go out of fashion. Our forefathers devoured it in Tom Jones and Don Quixote; we take our dosage in the genetically and artistically modified form of Strictly.

This year’s incarnation of the show (and its sturdy viewing figures) goes a long way to proving this point. Take the three finalists: Matt Baker (pictured above with partner Aliona Vilani), the simple Countryfile lad from up North; Kara Tointon, the beautiful young ingénue with the blossoming romance with professional partner Artem Chigvintsev; Pamela Stephenson, the sexagenarian grandmother and wife of Billy Connolly. All triumphed not only through their genius with fleckerls and heel leads, but their ability to shape their own story.

While Baker downplayed his youthful gymnastics career, focusing attention upon the contrast between his muck-spreading farm life and Strictly’s leg-spreading gyrations, his peak at the runner-up position might be down to his rookie error of being too good too soon. As we know from previous years (Ricky Whittle, anyone? Or even Gamu, if you prefer an X Factor equivalent), it doesn’t do well to shine too uncomplicatedly too early on. The novelty is fleeting, and the dramatic arc a little too flat for real viewer devotion.

Wuthering Heights it ain't, but certainly a good enough substitute for a Saturday night

Kara on the other hand (this season’s weeping mess of a winner) played things wisely, offering up not one but two separate character journeys. First off, the dancing; unspectacular initially before moving to the dramatic and technical heights of a professional, albeit with sufficient setbacks of injury and illness to keep things interesting. Then (in case that wasn’t enough) the carefully calibrated romance with her brooding Russian partner. With actual romance coyly deferred until “once the show has finished”, the affair was (is?) the perfectly orchestrated exercise in narrative tension, deferring gratification and fulfilment until the last possible second, and finding a plausible enough reason (professionalism, naturally) for this cruel postponement of young love. Wuthering Heights it ain’t, but certainly a good enough substitute for a Saturday night.

pamela-and-james-quarter-finalsEven Pamela Stephenson (pictured left with partner James Jordan), the poster girl for the BBC’s women-of-a-certain-age target audience, rediscovering sexuality (and her waistline) through her wholesome relationship with toyboy dance partner James Jordan, played her part. Together with Ann Widdecombe and the lamentable Bruce Forsyth, stumbling over punchlines with the elegance and accuracy of a 3am drunk trying to find the toilet, she provided the show’s obligatory BBC modesty blanket, the sterilised dressing for the saucier outfits and goings-on that have so shamelessly burst into the open in the contentious Argentinian version.

Loaded with baddies, heroes, heroines and crisis points, Strictly is a canny amalgam of Mills and Boon, Olympic gymnastics and fairy tales. The good are rewarded (with romance in Kara’s case, a seat on the judging panel in Alesha’s), the bad punished (extensive mockery of Craig’s mannerisms and Brendan’s temper), and the big, happy Strictly family unit never fails to triumph over the forces of vulgarity and smut. To occupy the moral high ground while barely clad women grind and prance in the name of family values – you’ve really got to hand it to the BBC. They still know how to spin a good yarn.

Bruce Forsyth, stumbling over punchlines with the elegance and accuracy of a 3am drunk trying to find the toilet

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