Modern Times

Wednesday, December 15, 1999 by

Like its predecessor 40 MinutesModern Times has always found space for a rather charming, old-fashioned view of “Englishness”.

Sometimes this works - MT was recently home to Martin Parr’s “Think of England”, a beautifully ambivalent view of Little England (although there were moments when one’s sympathy inevitably spilt over into contempt, such as the racist yobbism encountered in Blackpool). But at other times, it can entertain without being anything special. Colin Napthine’s film “A Passion for Pedigree” was one of the latter examples.

The world of dog-breeding, like that of private education, often seems inscrutable to the outsider, with its snobbery against mongrels not a million miles away from snobbery against the “lower classes”. The breeders here tended to fit in with stereotypes – so we had the chairwoman of Crufts a spinster who never took her hat off, an American breeder of St Bernards, an elderly couple painfully obsessed with Clumber spaniels, a decidedly eccentric lady owning 23 Pekingese, and the more “rough-edged”,”working-class” breeders, with devastating predictability, breeding less “respectable” dogs, Rottweilers.

The hallmark of this film was a kind of self-conscious quaintness, from the jaunty music that introduces it to the recurring use of a version of the Desert Island Discs theme tune played from an ancient Binatone radio.

At the end, there was the bout of melancholia that tends to finish these films (see also the 1995 “Living Dead” film which ended with an old-school High Tory struggling to remember the words to “Land of Hope and Glory”), as the Pekingese woman recounts going to Crufts the week after her husband’s death, the Clumber spaniel couple pondering the fate of their memorabilia after their demise, and a Pekingese suffering a traumatic birth. Enjoyable, but this format is becoming rather predictable, and it seems possible that Modern Times is losing some of its original emotional range.


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