Friday 23 March 2018

Tv Review: Rage and shame at return to killing fields – home and away

In the crossfire: A Tamil boy who was injured during the onslaught in Sri Lanka four years ago
In the crossfire: A Tamil boy who was injured during the onslaught in Sri Lanka four years ago

John Boland

Why doesn't Gerry Adams just pretend to have been in the IRA? It would save him a lot of bother from pesky interviewers who just won't let the matter rest and it would save television viewers from spluttering at the screen every time he engages in his it-wasn't me-guv stance.

In The Disappeared (RTÉ One/BBC One), reporter Darragh MacIntyre was the latest broadcaster who persistently tried to breach that basilisk stare and those stonewalling denials, but as Miriam O'Callaghan and countless other interrogators had previously discovered, it was all in vain. Nope, he'd never been in the IRA, let alone served as one of its commanders.

On more specific matters, his late former colleague Brendan Hughes had told Boston College researchers that there was "only one man" who gave the orders for the execution of mother-of-10 Jean McConville in December 1972 and "that man is now head of Sinn Féin", but Adams assured MacIntyre that "Brendan was telling lies" and that so, too, was the late Dolours Price when she implicated the Sinn Féin leader in McConville's abduction and execution.

In fact, although head of the IRA's political wing, Adams seemingly had no idea what his murderous partners were up to and certainly had "no act or part to play" in the abduction and slaying of McConville or any of the 15 other unfortunates who were killed and "disappeared" by his comrades.

Alison Millar's 90-minute film, an RTÉ/BBC co-production in the exemplary Storyville strand, told us nothing new but was powerfully disturbing nonetheless in its presentation of the grim facts and in its interviews with the families of those whose whereabouts remained distressingly unknown to them.

Forty years later, the bodies of seven of these IRA victims still haven't been located or recovered, causing ongoing torment to their families. Indeed, so upsetting was the film that it was impossible not to feel rage all over again at the atrocities and cruelties that have been perpetrated in the name of Irish nationalism. But at least Gerry Adams can console himself with the fact that he knew nothing about them.

Rage was my main emotion, too, when watching No Fire Zone (Channel 4), which presented frightening footage of the Sri Lankan 138-day military onslaught on the Tamils four years ago. These crimes against humanity, in which at least 40,000 civilians were killed, have been consistently denied by the government but, as narrator Rufus Sewell noted, they've led Canada to boycott the bi-annual commonwealth meeting that's now taking place in Colombo.

The no-fire zone of the title was designated by the Sri Lankan government as a safe haven for those fleeing the military offensive against the violently revolutionary Tamil Tigers, but when people did seek refuge there they were incessantly bombarded with mortars. And when the Red Cross provided the GPS co-ordinates of their hospitals so that they'd be able to attend to the injured in safety, these were promptly shelled, too.

Some of the footage, much of it taken on the cell phones of terrified people, was very hard to watch, while official film at the offensive's end of prisoners being taken into custody was followed by amateur footage of the mutilated corpses of these same prisoners – including those of young women who'd been raped just before their deaths. A United Nations spokesman told of the "shame and guilt" he'd felt when forced to leave these people to their 138-day fate, but the shame seemed to belong entirely to the murderous aggressors.

In a Panorama special (BBC One), reporter Sanchia Berg asked whether, following the Jimmy Savile revelations, mandatory reporting of child abusers should be introduced. Keir Starmer, England's former director of public prosecutions, was in no doubt that it should.

The film chronicled various cases of abuse in public and private schools and in hospitals and was a salutary reminder that a secular society can harbour as many paedophiles in positions of trust as a society in which the clergy have traditionally dominated such positions.

To celebrate the British National Theatre's 50th year in existence, BBC4 last week screened an engrossing two-part documentary on its history, with contributions from most of its noteworthy players, past and present, and with fascinating footage of its early years under the reign of Laurence Olivier and his script adviser Kenneth Tynan.

Some of these players turned up again in Live From the National Theatre (BBC Two), a gala evening featuring extracts from some of its most famous productions as well as re-enactments of others.

Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon reminisced about seeing (as I did, too) John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in the 1975 premiere of Pinter's No Man's Land. "I didn't know what it was about," Jacobi confessed. "You're not supposed to know," Gambon replied, "it's Harold Pinter – you just watch it." Then they performed a scene from it.

Brilliant, as were Judi Dench's rendition of Sondheim's Send in the Clowns, Ralph Fiennes's demonic newspaper proprietor in Howard Brenton's Pravda and Helen Mirren's adulterous wife in Mourning Becomes Electra.

To mark the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination, RTÉ One is showing the four-part JFK: A New Perspective, though there was little that I found new about its opening instalment. And I thought the tone overly reverential, too.

Irish Independent

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