Television Review

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The Independent Culture
Which would you imagine to be less stressful - a war zone or a house full of difficult teenagers? For a seasoned war reporter I don't think this would need much thinking about - in a war zone their decisions are relatively simple and the hazards are, within reason, calculable. But at least reason has some purchase on the situation, which can't always be guaranteed with teenagers. And if you add to the predictable ordeals of puberty a traumatising past as orphans in Afghanistan, linguistic and educational difficulties and a crippling disability, you get some idea of the task the journalist Nick Danziger took on when he rescued three children from Kabul and adopted them as his own. Even then you haven't taken full measure of his quixotic enterprise, though, because while Danziger appears to have some amazing contacts (he hitched by air from Pakistan to Dubai), he also needs to earn a living and his profession isn't exactly consistent with a stable domestic life.

I don't think you could really question Danziger's motives here. The three children he adopted were the only ones who hadn't found homes when an orphanage he had set up in Kabul was closed down by Taliban guerrillas, so you could see that a limited and practical act of compassion had inexorably led to a romantic and impractical one. All the same, True Stories' (C4) account of his first year with his makeshift family effectively amounted to a tribunal on his judgement. "I hope he's up to it," said his father. "I don't know whether he is. I'm not worried about him. I'm worried about the children and what he's going to make of them." At times the verdict looked in doubt. If you have to introduce your adopted Afghani children to their British grandmother, it isn't immediately obvious that having them leap out from the garage without warning is the best way to do it. The camera froze on his mother's look of astonishment and raised hands - a rare flash of technique in a largely artless film which made you wonder what exactly had followed (or rather what had followed immediately, since later footage showed her welcome to be unstinting).

What's more, unlike most fathers, Danziger had put in no time on the nursery slopes of parenthood, that arduous school in the intricacies of childish need. In one painful scene, he was shown at loggerheads with Satar, a young boy whose body had been twisted with polio: "Where do you think you'd be better off - here or there?" he said, offering an exasperated logical calculation to a child who desperately wanted emotional reassurance. A few minutes earlier, his father had been playing "Try a Little Tenderness" on the piano and the refrain echoed in your mind as you watched his well- meaning severity. Nor did it seem entirely sensible to relocate the children to Monaco, where the advantage of the climate was outweighed by the strains of learning yet another language, a burden with which the children were struggling anyway. Even the filming itself raised anxieties about the point where a film-maker's instincts would stop and those of a parent take over - the intrusiveness of the former being entirely at odds with the protectiveness of the latter. In one scene, Danziger read out a letter written by his adopted son to his first girlfriend, a routine trauma of adolescence suddenly made public. Nor did the persistent presence of a camera seem likely to diminish the boy's understandable shyness about his twisted body.

But most of those considerations were overruled by an 11th-hour plea in mitigation - which took the form of a brief film showing conditions back in Kabul, where girl orphans are forbidden to go out on the streets and lie in bed during the day for want of anything better to do. Life was unlikely to be particularly easy for these children in the West - a genuinely alien place in which the women strip in public (the girls were astounded by their first excursion to Monaco's beach) and grandmothers have no power to arrange their son's marriages (despite the childrens' assiduous matchmaking, including an attempt to fix him up with a Disneyland Belle, Danziger had still not supplied them with a mother by the end of the film). But whatever hardships they face here are negligible compared to the lives they would otherwise have lived. Virtually nothing about the affair was sensible but there are times when it is a folly to be wise.