Saturday 23 September 2017

Television: Grief of a mother eclipsed all else in this 7/7 drama

Tears: Emily Watson as grieving vicar Julie Nicholson in A Song for Jenny
Tears: Emily Watson as grieving vicar Julie Nicholson in A Song for Jenny

John Boland

The anniversaries of two atrocities, one vividly recalled and the other almost as forgotten as its victims, were marked this week in television programmes of varying impact.

The 52 people who died and the hundreds who were injured in the London bombings of July 7, 2005, were honoured in news broadcasts and current affairs shows on Tuesday and also in an affecting drama two nights earlier that was scripted by Frank McGuinness.

This was A Song for Jenny (BBC1) and it was based on the 2011 book of the same name by Julie Nicholson, a Church of England vicar whose 24-year-old daughter was killed by the Edgeware Road tube bomb.

It was powered by a tremendous performance from Emily Watson, who plumbed painful depths of foreboding, grief and anger, and there was fine support from Steven Mackintosh as her husband and Martha Mackintosh as her younger daughter, though the focus was so relentlessly on the mother that it was only her own grief that came through.

Yes, there was a scene towards the end in which the husband reminded his wife that Jenny "was mine, too" and another in which the younger daughter pointed out that she also loved Jenny, but these seemed almost an afterthought by the writer.

And at the end we didn't learn that Julie subsequently quit her ministry and that she and her husband separated. Of course, there was no imperative on the filmmakers to include these facts, even in final captions, but they might have lent the drama a further poignancy.

Meanwhile in Srebrenica 10 years earlier, while UN forces stood idly by, 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were separated from the women and young children in their families, taken into the woods by Ratko Mladic and his Serbian army and systematically slaughtered over a few July days.

This has been deemed the worst atrocity on European soil since the Nazi era, though for the 20-year-old British students in A Deadly Warning: Srebrenica Revisited (BBC1) it was either a distant piece of history they'd vaguely heard about or something of which they knew nothing.

However, under the aegis of a charity devoted to highlighting this massacre, they travelled to Srebrenica and were duly shocked by what they were told and by contemporary footage of the lead-up to the atrocity.

A seriously detailed account of those dreadful few days might have made for unbearable viewing, but there was something muffled about this film, as if it was fearful of telling it like it really was.

Still, there was a chilling scene in which the students questioned a Serbian official who insisted that while crimes might have been committed by some "individuals", there was no genocide and the Serbs were also victims. The still prevailing sense of great hatred and little room was unmistakeable, and the film's journalist-narrator confessed to feeling "pretty uncomfortable" in today's Srebrenica.

Back in the trivial world, Richard Branson was being celebrated. Last year, his tropical paradise and partying island got an uncritical puff in a documentary, and the mogul is getting yet more slavish publicity in the three-part Virgin Atlantic: Up in the Air (UTV Ireland).

The airline incurred losses of £51 million in 2013, which might explain why the cameras were allowed in for an exercise which, on the evidence of this week's opener, looks sets to be even duller than the recent BBC series about the running of British Airways.

And similarly trite, too. We saw a new batch of cabin crew candidates being interviewed, including a 58-year-old granny who was bored with her desk job and wanted to see the world. She got through, although you couldn't help feeling that it was because Virgin wanted to present itself as a cool and caring airline.

We also got to see toilets being chosen for first-class passengers on the newly-purchased Boeings - £200,000 each (that's for the toilet, not the plane) - and new passenger seats, too, at £70,000 a seat. Cripes, I'm bored just writing this.

I never thought that Family Guy would bore me, even though Seth MacFarlane's rude, crude and often jaw-droppingly crass cartoon show is so available across so many channels that it's practically unavoidable. But such is its manic exuberance that I invariably chortle at its gags and one-liners, even when I know I shouldn't.

However, BBC2, which has now stolen it from the soon-to-be-defunct BBC3, chose to celebrate its acquisition by opening with a new episode in which the Griffins meet the Simpsons and in which inspired moments were few and far between.

"A crossover always brings out the best in each show", Chris declared at the outset of the episode, but it was not to be in this largely laugh-free episode.

It was as if MacFarlane was so overawed by the global success of Family Guy's famous predecessor that he didn't dare to get outrageous about it. And an extended brawl at the end between Peter and Homer had none of the insane panache of Peter's encounters on his own show with a malevolent giant rooster.

"Worst chicken fight ever" was Comic Book Guy's closing verdict, and it was hard to disagree.

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