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The Independent Culture
The Poisoned Chalice (BBC2) is hardly the most seductive title for a television series, but perhaps there is a sly in-joke here. How else, after all, would you characterise Michael Elliot's brief as presenter: "Go away and make a four-part series about the impact of Europe on British politics." It is the sort of commission you might have mixed feelings about winning - because if Europe is a "deadly swamp" for British politicians, it is no less so for current affairs producers - a miasma of tedium, concealing fatal sink-holes of controversy.

It's no small achievement, then, to have made a programme which is not only witty and watchable but also wise about its method. The Poisoned Chalice is the latest exercise in Horse's Mouth History, a rising stock in television terms, and it includes a scene which tells you much about how such programmes operate - their seductive way of restoring human vitality to the official record. In 1962, Edward Heath and Sir Eric Roll lunched privately with the French Foreign Minister, in order to sound him out about De Gaulle's intentions towards the British. As belated supplicants to join the Common Market, they wanted to know the General's verdict. On screen, you saw the venue, the preparations, even the menu for that closeted moment of diplomacy, the sort of incidental detail which brings these things to life. The three surviving participants then recalled what had been said, effectively agreeing on the critical phrase ("no power on earth can prevent your entry") but contradicting each other completely on the import of those words. It was an effective reminder of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, which, even 30-odd years later, can be contaminated by wishful thinking or self-interest (comically evident in Sir Edward Heath's unshakeable conviction that his failed negotiations for entry had, in fact, been a resounding success). What's more, the same disagreement might be equally applied to every anecdotal account that had preceded this one. Oddly enough, this revelation served to increase your trust rather than undermine it. The series openly presents itself as an archaeology of second-guessing and diplomatic gamesmanship, not as a canonical or final account. Michael Elliot presents with a wry detachment which helps enormously: "The British did not take De Gaulle's veto lying down," he noted, after footage of the General's notorious press conference. "They cancelled a visit to Paris by Princess Margaret."

"Trying Tadic", a Witness (C4) film about the Bosnian war-crimes trial which has just started in the Hague, reminded you why such urgent emotions surrounded the founding of the Common Market. The evidence of what could happen when civil bonds break apart was inescapable just after the war, as it is now in the town of Kozarac, a ghost town eerily glimpsed in the mist from behind screeching windscreen wipers. Belinda Giles's remarkable film included other such images, unhistrionic in themselves but genuinely unnerving in their evocation of hidden events - as one of Tadic's relatives prepared a pig for roasting, for instance, it was impossible not to imagine other violations of flesh; as you watched Tadic himself demonstrating the brutal choreography of karate on a pre-war videotape, you couldn't help but see those blows connecting.

If, as his defence claims, Tadic is being made a scapegoat for all Serb atrocities (and for Western guilt about their failure to prevent them) then he might have been supplied by Shakespeare for the role - he is not just accused of torture and murder but of killing his closest friend by ordering another man to castrate him with his teeth. This is not a tale about the cruelty of strangers, then, but one about the viral power of ethnic identity to erase all other human loyalties. That the trial in the Hague is a show-trial is hardly in doubt - it is intended to show that "the Western powers" is not just a sick oxymoron. But if the scapegoat is proved guilty that may not matter. Even one brought to justice would be better than none.

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