Robert Hanks' Television Review

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The Independent Culture
"SCHOOLGIRL KILLER", last night's film for Under the Sun (BBC2), was riddled with contradictory images. In the first seconds, the camera homed in on a woman's serious, beautiful face, then pulled out to reveal that she was clutching a teddy bear. The car in which she was riding bumped past a horse-drawn buggy. Later, shacks, dirt tracks and the cowboys of southern Ethiopia gave way to the tower blocks, highways and cosmopolitan society of Addis Ababa (where, on the terraces of Parisian-style cafes, people were glimpsed sipping espresso and reading columns by Anne Robinson. How sophisticated is that?).

These deliberately stark contrasts seemed designed to point to the black- and-white nature of the moral drama being played out here: modernity versus tradition, village versus city, men versus women. Aberash, the woman with the teddy bear, had been abducted, beaten and raped when she was 14 by a local farmer who wanted to force her into marriage - common practice hereabouts. Escaping, she stole a gun and shot him dead. Now she was in court, accused of murder.

At one end of the drama stood the dead man's parents. They were disgusted by Aberash: in their view, she had been offered the chance to become a wife and mother, but had chosen to become a murderer. At the other end stood an organisation of women lawyers determined to turn the case into a test of the law. Somewhere in the middle were the elders of Aberash's village, who had declared the whole episode closed and the families reconciled - the price of reconciliation being Aberash's exile to an orphanage in Addis Ababa.

Their presence seemed to add a touch of grey to proceedings, to suggest that the distinctions weren't quite so clear cut. Aberash had justice on her side, of course; but fitting justice into this world may not have been an obvious or easy matter for the other parties involved.

The film tried to make things obvious. It visited Aberash's older sister, Mestawet, forced into marriage by abduction years earlier. She now ran a shebeen while caring for four children. Her husband self- deprecatingly referred to the abduction as the act of a young man who didn't know any better, but seemed to think that the story had ended well; Mestawet's expression argued differently. Meanwhile, another 14-year-old girl was abducted in a nearby village, and negotiations began to bring her back home.

Charlotte Metcalf's film had more than its fair share of incidents and moral cruxes, but the narrative meandered around until tension and indignation were dissipated. Aberash got off, but it was hard to summon up much relief.

Impotence (C5), a new documentary series, began with a programme about Christine Evans - "the dick doctor" - a consultant urologist who brings a brutal, hockey-sticks jollity to her job. For those who are keen on that sort of thing, the series features lots of shots of plump, pink penises accompanied by brisk chat about knobbly bits. One patient was seen at home, tinkering on an electronic keyboard and not a single joke was made about his organ. This suggests either surprising restraint, or even more surprising stupidity; since it's on Channel 5, I'm betting on stupidity.

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