Big cat's tale

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 May, 1999, 12:00am

It is possible to get unnecessarily bogged down with anthropomorphic comparisons when watching animal documentaries. The closer we get to the animals, the greater the temptation to start talking about them as if they were human.

Big Cat Country (World, 9pm) is hardly the most original wildlife series ever made, but at least it avoids this kind of false sentimentality. In the opening programme, The Leopard's Tail, the cameras followed a Kenyan leopard nicknamed Half-tail. Half-tail (so named because she has half a tail) and her eight-month-old cub always remain animals with their own motives, passions and rationales. The cub does not even get a name.

Half-tail is no ordinary leopard. If she was an ordinary leopard it would have been much harder to make this film because ordinary leopards do not strut about in broad daylight much. This is because it is hard to creep up on a herd of impala if one has been marching about in front of them for the last hour or so.

Half-tail scorns such thinking, and occasionally this rejection of convention does lead to longish periods without dinner, but generally the family eat well enough. Unfortunately this little quirk is about the only thing that makes Half-tail's story worth watching.

Maybe we have been spoilt over the past few months with a steady diet of David Attenborough, but somehow the voice-over on this programme lets it down. There are too many long pauses when we are just left to watch Half-tail staring down a pair of hyenas, or the cub chasing a lizard. In between things are hardly better, with a clunky script that sounds painfully childish and patronising.

There is nothing childish about the last part of The Clintons: A Marriage Of Power (World, 10pm). Finally, we get to Monica Lewinsky, where she came from and what she came to mean. Although the film starts with that repulsive publisher who told Linda Tripp to tape her young friend if she really wanted to get Mr Clinton, on the whole this is a sober, serious account that rarely allows itself titter.

And what intelligent disinterested observer, which presenter Michael Elliott surely is, could do anything else but laugh at the whole sorry mess. It turns out that Mr Clinton only bumped into the girl because of his greatest victory; the federal shutdown that he managed to pin on Newt Gingrich and his Republican majority in Congress.

Ms Lewinsky was only answering phones and taking messages in the White House because there were no paid staff around to do it.

This gave her the chance to flash the thong, and the rest is documented in vicious detail in the Starr Report.

Elliott made this film before the impeachment proceedings got under way, but he had the prescience to realise that whatever happened, Hillary Clinton would be the winner.

He interviews several observers effusive praise of her. After all those efforts to tone down her intelligence to pacify the American public, she finally won them over by being the only person to demonstrate any dignity throughout the whole, distasteful affair.