Attenborough’s Life In Colour: Just what I needed – a dazzling dose of escapism

Attenborough’s Life In Colour: Just what I needed – a dazzling dose of escapism

2 March 2021 09:25 pm

David Attenborough has described his new two-part BBC series as a break from his recent “woe is me” documentaries addressing the bleak reality of climate change.

Attenborough’s Life In Colour (BBC One, 7pm) certainly feels like a throwback to the gosh, wow thrill of “early Attenborough” and shows such as Life on Earth and the Living Planet. Warnings of imminent doom are off the table as the supremely spry 94-year-old takes us on a tour of Costa Rica, the Great Barrier Reef and other regions where nature shimmers in all its chromatic splendour.

As per the title, Life In Colour puts forward the loose thesis that colour has a key role in the evolution of life on the planet. However, the lecture hall stuff is quickly dispensed with as we get to the true charms of the episode. These include Attenborough waxing about plumage and the visible spectrum as he is surrounded by zipping, zapping hummingbirds.

He’s jubilant, and they seem delighted too. Do the animals know they’re breathing the same air as wildlife television royalty? Science tell us this is an impossibility – but how surprised would you be if one of the Fiddler crabs we encounter later were to suddenly break character and ask Attenborough for a selfie?

Nature documentaries are obviously not built on cute hummingbirds or selfie-seeking crabs alone. So there are also a few menacing bits, such as a close-up of a multi-coloured male Mandrill baboon swaggering around like a soccer hooligan looking for a scrap (although soccer hooligans don’t usually dye their bums iridescent pink).

A sly sense of fun meanwhile characterises a scene in which two poison dart frogs in South America square off, and the soundtrack delivers an Ennio Morricone pastiche. We’re a long way from Attenborough lamenting about melting glaciers and, given all that is going on in the world at the moment, that is probably to be welcomed.

The BBC is terrifically proud of its cutting-edge wildlife programming (along with costume dramas it’s one area where British broadcasting excels). And so Life In Colour comes with the inevitable “afterword” section in which a camera crew follows the camera crew trying to get that crucial shot of a Fiddler crab waving its Hellboy-style outsized claw.

But this sequence is for the hardcore Attenborough addict only. The real fun is in the preceding sugar-rush of animals romping, yomping and blazing with every hue in the spectrum (and quite a few beyond limits of human eyesight).

At a time when our horizons have never felt narrower, this is a big, bold and brilliantly dazzling shot of escapism.

Irish Times