review

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The Independent Culture
Is television good for you? Television producers are naturally at pains to make the case, which is why both The Day That Changed My Life (BBC2) and World in Action (ITV) contained claims for therapeutic efficacy. In the former, Jill Morrison, a woman bringing up the sons of her murdered daughter, expressed the hope that her story might help others to see that despair does have an end. In the latter, Stephanie Moore, the widow of footballer Bobby Moore, explained that she was taking part in the programme so that people would become better informed about the bowel cancer which killed him. The sentiments are unimpeachable, which is one reason why directors take care to include them. I'm not sure, though, whether the programmes are, too.

The Day That Changed My Life was further out on a prurient limb. For one thing, murder isn't an avoidable disease, with early warnings that can be picked up by the well-informed citizen. For another, its entire style was a modified form of the onlooker's fascinated gawp as survivors are led from the scene by a sympathetic policewoman. We want to know, at some suitably detached level, what it is like to receive a call saying that your daughter has been murdered by her husband, that your grandchildren, who went to bed happy and contented, have woken up effectively orphaned. But, while our desire to know may be inextricably entangled with our ability to feel sympathy for strangers, it isn't in itself a particularly noble curiosity. Liz Jackson used a slow zoom on silent faces to let us stare and wonder, subjecting both the grandmother and the boys themselves to this unblinking scrutiny. And, as if to ensure that you felt no discomfort at the enlistment of children into this ceremony of candour, they were invited to offer a further testimonial to the healing powers of television: "What about having a programme like this to look back on," asked an offscreen voice, "will that help?" All three murmured - in the way that polite children would - that "umm, yeah, probably". Perhaps they meant it, but could they have said anything else?

World in Action's report on bowel cancer was on firmer ground, presented by a consumer journalist who had suffered it herself and broadcast with the express purpose of prevention. But if the aim was unembarrassed education, why was the discussion of the "distressing symptoms" so unhelpfully vague? Maybe "passing blood" was deemed quite explicit enough for this time in the evening, but I imagine there will be more than a few viewers who wanted some extra detail, more than a few GPs who will spend the next week calming down piles sufferers who think their last hour has come and who will treat even sensible medical reassurance as a potential case-history for Lynn Faulds-Wood's next report. "If only we'd insisted on a second opinion," they can imagine their grieving partner saying, as something plangent plays on the soundtrack, "he'd still be alive today." It's true, I know, that false alarms might be better than no alarms at all, but given that one of World in Action's charges was that GPs were ill-informed about the condition, they might have tried harder to educate them, and us, in calm diagnosis.

Out of the Deep Pan (BBC2), the first in a new showcase of screenplays by young writers (Double Exposure), offered a useful compendium of a hip movie's current favoured accessories: surf guitar intro (a la Pulp Fiction), sardonically edited montages (a la Shallow Grave and The Commitments), fashionably unfashionable soundtrack ("Mambo Italiano" and "Che Sera Sera") and some quirkily comic violence (our hero forced by Belfast thugs to sing Cat Stevens's "Oh baby, baby it's a wild world" to prove that he's a Muslim). It was more a series of sight-gags than a play, and the sense of deja-vu was pretty unremitting, but Kieron Walsh's film of Tim Loane's script was engaging and funny enough to suggest that when they get round to doing their own thing it will probably be worth watching.

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