review

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When a Woman Kills Her Man (ITV) sounded a bit like a Dolly Parton number, all sobbing melisma and Southern vowels. It actually turned out to be another of Network First's excursions into drama-documentary, but the title is instructive - this is the social issue as soap. The victims and perpetrators are actors, while the police, lawyers, doctors and social workers are all genuine, dealing with the case as if it was the real thing. Drama-doc is not quite right, in other words. It's more as if one of those hypothetical programmes was shot entirely on location, and is thus subject to the falsity all hypotheticals are prone too - the natural hypothesis of all those taking part that they would behave impeccably.

For obvious reasons, the result is slightly inert as drama - when the police are called out to a domestic row, there are no offhand remarks on the way, no impertinent speculations in the squad car about the woman they have just interviewed, no jokes. Instead you get a training video - the by-the-book version of supportive interrogation and help-line advice. Like a real documentary, the programme contains quite a lot of dead air - long passages of silence where the woman hesitates on the brink of naming her shame. But while real dead air can often be pretty lively, tense with restriction and uncertainty, this has rigor mortis - it's just there to be lifelike and, as a result, isn't.

Things perked up a bit when the husband came on the scene, if only because his strenuous denials injected a tiny trace of doubt to the thing - might he get away with it? But it isn't long before he's face down in the hall, with a rather convincing set of puncture wounds across his shoulders. To be fair, the woman's account of the events leading up to the stabbing was actually rather good, convincing in its fictional detail, but even so, I found myself thinking "Why bother when Brookside's already done it?"

Soldier, Soldier (ITV), now in its fifth series, returned to assault the audience with with full army support. Helicopters, firing ranges, military vehicles - you name it, the army have obligingly supplied it. But then, why should they not? Accidental publicity for army life has not been particularly good recently, what with soldiers on trial for murder in Cyprus and a recent incident in which a plane-load of tourists was terrorised by drunken Paras who urinated over the seats (regimental motto: Utrinque Paratus or "Ready for Anything"). So a series in which all the tribulations are personal, and none of them institutional, must look like a pretty good deal. As in Network First, this is an organisation on its best behaviour - not necessarily an entirely false picture but certainly one in which the air-brush has removed any unfortunate shadows. So, after an accident during a live firing exercise, there is no furtive cover-up and no embarrassing exposure of regimental feuds (as happened for real just a few months ago) - instead you get a brisk investigation by the military police and a manful confession of error by the officer you thought was trying to weasel out of things.

On the other hand, none of this disables Soldier, Soldier as solid mainstream drama. It is actually rather canny in the way it exploits the peculiar emotional territory of army life - the way that formal structures of rank produce interference patterns when laid against the private authority of desire and dislike. So Sergeant Garvey ends up on the receiving end of a formal interrogation from his ex-wife, Sergeant Thorpe, while Lieutenant Stubbs, freshly-promoted from the other ranks, and trying hard to pull his wife up behind him, finds her curiously reluctant to cut her non- commissioned girlfriends. And, this being a drama which requires no co- operation from the social services, the social workers turn out to be double-dyed villains.

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