TV Highlights

What was on Thursday 20th November

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Sky Arts 1 - 10pm

Who's in it?

Laying bare the life of the incomparable Gore Vidal – the nearest thing the 20th Century had to its own Oscar Wilde – this sprawling documentary featured insights from friends and rivals alike.

In a nutshell

Velvet-voiced, acid-tongued Gore Vidal was suave package of contradictions. Cutting an aristocratic figure, he was deeply embedded with the most powerful members of the US establishment – presidents, senators, congressmen. Yet he was also a provocateur and a rebel who shocked the nation with an early novel about gay love and sex, and whose radical politics almost caused brawls on live talk shows.

He was also fond of the cutting quip. "A narcissist is someone better looking than you are," was one. "The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country, and we haven't seen them since," was another. This documentary charted his A-list life, his friendships with movie stars and his feuds with former friends like the late, great Christopher Hitchens. It was a portrait of the kind of figure we'll probably never see the likes of again: the novelist as public figure, the critic as tabloid celebrity.

What's the verdict?

While this was every bit as salacious and gossipy as Gore Vidal himself, the film's flaw was its emphasis on his colourful social life over his fascinating politics. It skirted over some of the later controversies too – such as his apparent fondness for conspiracy theories. Still, with his charisma oozing across the eras, this was an engrossing tour through an incredible life.

Star rating: 4/5

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