REVIEW / When black and white gives way to colour

I'M NOT SURE that South Africa needs fictional violence just now, but it's getting it anyway. To add to the abundance of documentary material British viewers have been given in recent weeks (on some evenings its possible to feel that you've emigrated), Channel 4 began a South African made series, In a Time of Violence, at the weekend, and last night BBC 2 offered Douglas Livingstone's play Return to Blood River. They made an interesting comparison - both journalistic in their methods, both a little awkward in execution, but set apart by their point of view, one looking out and one looking in.

Return to Blood River was about prejudices, those of liberal piety as well as tribal hatred, while In a Time of Violence simply alerted you to some of your own you might have missed, its calculatedly colourful picture of Johannesburg life a reminder that even informed British viewers have a fairly monochrome view of South Africa. I can't be the only viewer who thought (with a faint blush), 'Oh, of course, there must be gay blacks there as well,' after two minor characters sashayed out of an elevator wearing fruit-cocktail shirts. And blacks who couldn't give a toss about the elections. And blacks who think the country's going to the dogs. And whites who panhandle prosperous black businessmen in the streets and get abuse for their pains.

As drama, Return to Blood River was ostensibly more sophisticated, its account of a long-time white exile returning for the funeral of his murdered father designed to display specific moral problems. After the death, Terry finds himself principal shareholder in the family firm, at odds with his unpleasant Afrikaner brother-in-law, Hannes (Warren Clarke in fine form), and his right-wing mother. The plot was as subtle in its operation as a see-saw. Someone has stolen money from the company. Is it Hannes and his partner Phil, a spivvy English emigre with a nasty line in racist banter? Or is it Daniel, the black accountant and Terry's old comrade on the protest lines?

This was a very tidy mess, sustained by the sort of lines that are more familiar from country house murders ('Only four people knew those codes'), and it left this viewer feeling mildly dissatisfied, partly because the research sat a little conspicuously in the dialogue, partly because it flinched from really disturbing your preconceptions. Having fingered Daniel as the thief, Livingstone then has him gunned down in front of his children by a trigger-happy policeman; he had a brief existence as a rounded human being, flawed and unhappy, but he died a stereotype, the black victim of state oppression.

In a Time of Violence is more clumsy in its manner, but has, at the very least, the advantage of real locations, a rich sense of place which drip-feeds information to you, even as you concentrate on something else. A hijacked truck figured in the plot of Livingstone's play; in the South African series you actually see a lorry with its licence plate painted in large figures on the roof, a detail which had no bearing on the plot but which none the less carried an almost subliminal message about crime and hovering helicopters. The dialogue too, a rich stew of English, Afrikaans and African that has the subtitles flickering on and off like faulty neon, conveys as much by its style as its content.

The plot is a Dickensian affair of overlapping stories, centred on a faintly decrepit Johannesburg apartment block to which the central characters, Bongani and Mpho, flee after witnessing an Inkatha killing. In its way it is as programmatic as Return to Blood River, but it has the virtue, at least for viewers here, of being programmed by South Africans. The details in Livingstone's play added definition to a picture you feel you already knew (that some white women now carry condoms in case they are raped, for instance). Those in In a Time of Violence actually changed the picture slightly, as when Bongani's uncle Zakes complains that the streets of Johannesburg are 'full of foreigners'. He had black immigrants from Zare and Mozambique in mind, not white journalists.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past