Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE WOMEN seeking to escape from the shackles of their marriages in True Stories: Divorce Iranian Style (C4), occasionally addressed the camera. Concealed in black, like Scottish widows, they were cast as both the central figures in the documentary, and a Greek chorus; commenting on the action, and venting their frustration to the audience beyond the lens.

The reason for their stress - apart from their husbands - was the judge himself. An expert in Islamic law on marital disputes and divorce, he dealt in extremes. With the look of a holy man, he offered advice that was akin to that dished out by agony aunts in early women's magazines. He dealt out punishment that was antediluvian, to say the least. One man was in line for 50 lashes if proved to have insulted his wife in the corridors of the court. Meanwhile, many of the wives that came before the judge were told that it was their duty to keep themselves attractive in order to make their marriages work. "I didn't always look like this," cried one woman. "I have photos." Making the case that her face now told the story of years of working at, and worrying about her marriage, she spoke of her husband's absence with another woman. Yet still she wanted him back. When he signed papers confirming that he would become a proper husband again, she winked and smiled at the camera, informing us that she liked to feed him nuts and sweets as he watched television.

But if women get a bad deal in marriage under Islamic law, they fare no better in the process of divorce. This documentary proved to be a revealing depiction of a group of strident women attempting to reclaim their lives, in a society in which their voices are seldom heard. The reasons they gave for wanting their freedom were manifold, ranging from the reasonable to the desperate. One woman was too young when she married. Ziba, now aged 16, sought her freedom so as to become a student. Another wanted out because her spouse had sexual problems. But it was when a wife complained about her husband and his mates making the home stink of cigarette smoke, that the judge become most self-assured with his advice and punishment. He ordered that the man give up smoking. Kids can keep a couple together, but the cigs can pull them apart.

Marital problems are currently the cornerstone of events in the garden of earthly delights that is Albert Square. The storyline in EastEnders (BBC1) reads like a variation on the Book of Genesis. Mel and Ian are getting married. Mark, Ian's cousin, is concerned. Ian's first wife, Cindy, had a child with Ian's stepbrother, Simon, and an affair with Simon's half brother David. Pat, mother of the two half brothers, is on her fourth marriage. Her third husband, Frank, is married to Peggy. Sam, Peggy's daughter, was the first wife of Ricky, Frank's son. Ricky and his current wife, Bianca, are having problems. Bianca is having an affair with Dan, the man her mother, Carol, is going to marry. Carol is awaiting a divorce from Alan. Walford, like Iran, is another country: they do things differently there.

Robert Hanks is away