Fight Club: A History of Violence, Episode 1: Review
The first episode of Fight Club: A History of Violence looks back at the unrecognisable and never-to-be-repeated days when men and women of ill-repute, drunk on cheap gin and intoxicated by a culture of violence, fought brutally on the streets of our capital, as the chattering classes looked on aghast but strangely mesmerised, and wondered whether they could legitimately blame the influx of Irish travellers.
Truly, we shall never see such days again. However, this four-part documentary series, narrated by Sean Bean, promises to take us as close as possible to such an alien world. This first episode concerns the fighting women of Georgian England, of whom “Lady Bareknuckle” Elizabeth James is the best known, but least typical.
The screen time is shared almost equally by down-to-earth writer and blogger Lucy Inglis and a plummy, Oxbridge-type historian who complement each other marvellously. On the influence of gin, Inglis chirps with a smile ‘You’d be drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two”, whilst the professor deadpans, “Performance was not enhanced”. He intones that “No doubt [the fights] would deteriorate from fisticuffs downwards” and Inglis states “people wanted to see the tits”.
Watching the old lad attempt gently to describe the fact that the fights generally took place knee-deep in pig shit, before eventually settling on “there was a large bacterial population in the arena of combat” is the one of the finest sights I’ve seen on television in a long, long time.
All this is delightfully interspersed by Sean Bean slowly murmuring pop-history nonsense over slow-motion reconstructions. The undoubted creative peak of this has to be when he announces earnestly towards the end that “the women who fought with bare knuckles more than two hundred years ago are still there, just beneath the modern streets”, presumably living a life of immortal pugilism in the sewers, like Ninja Turtles.
Still, I would happily let Sean Bean narrate every documentary, movie, T.V. show and video game in the entire world, as he somehow manages to imbue even the most limpid bollocks with fathoms of inscrutable depth. His Sheffield tones could make “No likey, no lighty” or “let the ham see the cheese,” sing with the plaintive cry of youth’s aching search for companionship, or “here’s one I made earlier” speak of the tender firmness with which a craftsman’s hands work.
The man’s a genius, in short, and this documentary is worth watching just for the sheer joy of hearing him speak. But, if you’re already watching, it also has the added bonus of a small serving of interesting history; prole size, of course, we couldn’t be expected to understand any more, as the bottom bits of our head are full of KFC and the top X Factor, but still there.