TELEVISION / Sister of mercy-killing: Andy Gill on Dawn French's sinister secret and the artistic life of the Jewish ghetto of Terezin

WE SHALL all regard Dawn French a little differently, I think, after this weekend's 'Screen One' production, Tender Loving Care (Sunday BBC1). As Elaine, the 'mere' SEN (State Enrolled Nurse) looking after an increasingly under-staffed geriatric ward, her usual bubbly bonhomie masked a dark secret: she was murdering her patients in their sleep.

Though her failure to climb higher up the nursing ladder obviously rankled, her killings were not inspired by revenge. She was, rather, an Angel of Death, expediting what was unavoidable by offering a merciful release only to the most troublesome and solitary of the incurable, those cases where no one would suspect. After all, as she explained to her sympathetic night-shift partner Mary (Rosemary Leach) when the latter revealed that she'd long been aware of Elaine's activities, it would be unfair on all their other charges if they couldn't give them the attention they needed because they were always having to deal with the same few difficult cases. She underlined the paradoxical basis of her actions when, having given a potentially fatal dose of medication to a particularly troublesome tramp, she combed his hair tenderly as he slept.

Elaine's home life was filled with the trivia of domestic duty, utterly devoid of incident until hubby Keith (Bob Pugh) attempted to jolly up her existence. Whatever he tried - the jokes, the cheery sexual overtures, the caravan holiday in Wales - only seemed to make matters worse, as the emotional pressure of killing to be kind built up inexorably behind Elaine's facade. To make matters worse, Mary had started receiving messages from God - or from his terrestrial representative in church, at least - and decided to enter into the mercy-killing business with gusto, battering a suicidal rent- boy's head against the shower-tray in retribution for his sins.

Elaine, of course, was aghast. She'd always been scrupulously careful to make her own killings plausible and, as she protested to the bewildered Mary, she would never speed someone on their way merely for ethical reasons. Now there would have to be an inquiry, the police would be called in, and who knows what they might uncover? Mary, it was clear, was getting to be a liability. Meanwhile, Elaine's neighbour Daisy (Joan Sims), dumped on the ward when complications prevented her hip operation, had degenerated from her usual chirpy, bawdy self into a creepy, keening presence which, quite frankly, was beginning to get on Elaine's nerves . . .

Though apparently inspired by an Austrian case in which 42 patients died, Lucy Gannon's play took on a sharper local resonance after the Beverly Allitt affair highlighted the way in which we foist the most demanding of patients - children and geriatrics - on to the least qualified carers. Who else, after all, would do such demeaning work for such derisory pay?

A different outlook on imminent death was offered in The Music Of Terezin (Saturday BBC2), an account of artistic life in the Nazi ghetto of Theresienstadt, which served as a collection-point for Czech Jews on the way to Auschwitz. Ironically, many of the Jews sent there found the walled ghetto a place of relative peace and artistic freedom compared to the iniquities of the Reich outside: the Germans, aware that, as far as they knew, none of these Jews would survive, let them get on with whatever they wanted, secure in the knowledge that none of it would reach the world outside - apart from the bits they allowed to be filmed for propaganda purposes, easing the world's misgivings about the plight of the Jews sent 'to the East'.

Accordingly, the arts flourished in the ghetto, the combination of tribulation and creative freedom making for some particularly vigorous and demanding music. Along with regular recitals of Verdi, Strauss and Chopin were more pertinent works such as Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride - a symbol of Czech liberation, performed in a gymnasium with the audience hanging from the wall-bars - and original works by subsequently executed composers, like Viktor Ullmann's opera The Emperor of Atlantis - banned by the SS when they recognised it as a political allegory whose Hitler-figure Emperor is ultimately carried off by Death.

Though Simon Broughton's film struggled to animate his subject for the full 70 minutes - there is a limit on the number of shots of present- day children playing in a former concentration camp that can be used before the sense of irony snaps shut - the courage and tenacity of those whom it celebrated was never in doubt. When you have to draw your own staves on scraps of paper before you can even start writing an opera which may never be performed, a special dedication is involved.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick