Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ONE MOMENT, there were the Harts enjoying a riverboat wedding reception and being toasted by their new son-in-law, Roy. The next, there they were, toast. You have to admit that the producers of Family Affairs (Sun omnibus, C5) showed some nerve, incinerating the entire family which gives the show its name. There is nothing like a good culling to get a soap a bit of attention - cf Grace Archer trying to rescue the horses from the stables fire, and Brookside passim. The precedent here is the fire at the Crossroads Motel which killed Meg Richardson (or appeared to: it turned out she had sailed off to Australia on the QE2). That also was a bold attempt to turn a soap's fortunes around. Though it was another seven years before Crossroads finally bit the dust, it marked the beginning of the end.

Family Affairs is filmed with a grainy quality which gives it a Crossroads- like air of cheapness; and the leisurely way it cuts between scenes appears designed to prolong rather than enliven the action. What it does have, though - as the best soaps do - is a lively sense of the family as a network of tensions and grudges, and family events as catastrophes waiting to happen. Shortly before the explosion, Annie was trying to persuade her daughter, Holly, not to run away with Dave, on the grounds that she'd had an affair with him herself. Chris told Annie she was a bitch, patriarch Angus lurched in with a vomit- stained best man... and then, ka-boom.

By contrast, a "serious" drama like Shot Through the Heart (Sun, BBC2) sanctifies the family: the families seen here were uncomplicatedly happy, loving units, the only tensions damaging them were ones brought by war. Of course, there are such families; and in Bosnia there must be even more families who look back to the beginning of the war and see their lives in such terms. But in Guy Hibbert's drama, this seemed to be part of a pattern of over-simplification.

The premise - based on fact - was seductively simple to begin with: two men, best friends and both members of the Yugoslav Olympic shooting team, find themselves on opposite sides when war breaks out in Sarajevo. Sent to kill the sniper who has been shooting women and children, one of the men realises that his target is his friend. But rather than try to feel its way through the complexities of this true story, the film set out to simplify it further: Serbs bad, Croats and Muslims good; married men responsible and decent, unmarried men rootless and amoral. You could tell that everybody was Yugoslavian because they all had cod foreign accents - perhaps that was just to camouflage the accents of the international co-stars, Vincent Perez and Lothaire Bluteau.

This was an honourable attempt to project the awful precariousness of life in besieged Sarajevo; but too often, that reality was forced to conform to the rhythms and habits of television drama. Shootings, far from being unpredictable acts, were telegraphed by the music and the way the scenes were framed. To do justice to what happened and is still happening in Kosovo, a drama would need to be messier, dirtier and more random than this one dared to be. In some ways, I'd say Family Affairs came closer to being a true story.