Television Review

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The Independent Culture
DALZIEL AND PASCOE (Sat BBC1) returned to the screens with an adaptation of Reginald Hill's recent novel about his Laurel and Hardy policemen, On Beulah Height. This is familiar Hill country - a missing child, old bones resurfacing, the beautiful countryside presenting its usual dreadful record of sin, and Detective Superintendent Dalziel bullying and farting his way to the truth while Pascoe squirms with liberal angst.

What stops it seeming over- familiar is the sophistication of Hill's treatment; the layered appreciation of the interplay of class, sex and family, of the ways that memory distorts our view of the present. With its glossy looks and elaborate plots, Dalziel and Pascoe invites comparison with Morse; but it plays a deeper game. Dalziel may, like Morse, be a monster, but Pascoe is human - the case of the missing child resonated here with his anxiety for his sick daughter. The recurrent references to Mahler's Kindertotenlieder - Songs on the Death of Children - had a more potent emotional charge than Morse's self- conscious operatic obsession.

They are very literary books, so it's surprising how faithful this TV version stayed to the original. It even added a few twists of its own - the hunt for a missing girl reached a kind of emotional crisis when the searchers stumbled on a dead sheep; the idea was echoed a moment later by the sight of Pascoe's young daughter wearing a Wallace and Gromit sheep-shaped rucksack.

In the end, TV fails the books. Ordinary actors can't measure up to the monumental aspects of Hill's characters - David Royle is too pretty for the mirror- splintering gargoyle, DS Wield; Warren Clarke is way too small for the massive, bull-like Dalziel, and the extremes of his personality have to be flattened out. But still, Dalziel and Pascoe speaks with nuances - not just the clumsy dot-dash,dot-dash of the telegraph, but in real, human voices.

Inside Russia's SAS (Sun BBC2) is a two-part look at the Spetsnaz, the Russian special forces unit that through "stealth and ruthlessness struck fear in the heart of Nato". The first programme was full of quirky information. The original Spetsnaz, partisan divisions in the Spanish Civil War, invented several types of landmine that could be constructed from easily obtained materials. We heard a number of Spetsnaz songs - jingoistic cliches tinged by the great Russian soul. We also learned that Russians and "capitalists" have fundamentally different styles of fighting, which derive from the fact that capitalists can afford to waste more bullets.

But there was surprisingly little evidence here of the effectiveness of the Spetsnaz. In Afghanistan, its operations precipitated 10 years of unwinnable war. In Lithuania, they hastened independence by firing on an unarmed crowd. Possibly the commentary was hyping them up to appeal to the Andy McNab-reading public. Or perhaps that was the price the BBC had to pay for access to Spetsnaz training videos and personnel. Next week's film will, apparently, talk about the Spetsnaz agents' status as soldiers for hire in the new Russia. No doubt they need all the advertising they can get.

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