Television Review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The only music you heard in Timewatch's film about the Aberfan disaster (BBC2) was the sound of a male-voice choir, and the only occasion you heard it was when you were looking at the village as it is now, restored, with children playing in the streets.

In other words, the scenes of the disaster itself were allowed to play in total silence - no weeping cellos, no plangent Welsh laments, no dismal harp to chivvy you into the appropriate emotion. It was the kind of delicacy one has come to associate with this programme under the editorship of Laurence Rees, a consistant ability to find merit in small details of craftmanship rather than ostentatious flourishes of style.

Some of this praise may be in the nature of interest accrued on an unpaid debt - when Timewatch broadcast its excellent film about the myths surrounding Rennes-les-Chateaux (much lucrative tosh about Templar treasure and cabalistic secrets), I missed the immediate opportunity for applause. That film - beautifully constructed as the slow inflation of a balloon of credibility, followed by some sharp, puncturing revelations - was a good example of the strand's consistent ability to unearth something new in old stories.

In a very different way, so was "Remember Aberfan", a film which seemed to promise little more than an animated memorial to begin with, but slowly and subtly established its connection to current issues. The name Dunblane was summoned almost instantly - as soon as you saw the first smiling school photograph of one of the dead - but it wasn't actually said aloud until the programme was almost over, and then only by the people entitled to draw a comparison. These were old men who had watched the news footage of mothers running through the streets, or waiting numbly for information, and had then witnessed events 30 years on.

They had advice to give which was pertinent, too - that taking some kind of concerted action was one route to some kind of tranquillity. For those at Aberfan, it meant pursuing some truthful account of what had been an avoidable tragedy; after one bereaved father had listened to a savage cross-examination of Lord Robens, the coal board chairman, he walked over to the lawyer and said "That was like balm to my soul". On this evidence, The Snowdrop Appeal isn't simply "emotional" indulgence - as the sulky brats of the gun-lobby would have it. It's a practical way of rebuilding some kind of life. Catrine Clay's film presented such associations without labouring them, and without letting them get in the way of the original grief - including the moving paradox that the dead are preserved for ever as children, in snapshots and portraits, while the survivors have somehow disappeared, erased by the adults they have become.

Both Witness (C4) and Inside Story (BBC1) used the penetrating power of lightweight video to get into the cracks of the New World Order, the strange life that emerges as nations split up and authorities weaken. Witness was about a rabbi detective, an Orthodox Jew whose task is to track down errant husbands and persuade them to grant their wives a divorce. Without this, observant Jewish women are left in limbo, unable to remarry or have legitimate children, and even the unobservant may find themselves deprived of welfare benefits. Witold Starecki's film was a little undermined by the futility of Rabbi Gordon's excursions into the former Soviet Union, where he came up against indifference and corruption, but I won't quickly forget his somewhat unrabbinical way of proceeding: "She raised his four children on her own," he said, emerging from one confrontation, "and the bastard has the nerve to demand his old samovar back".

Inside Story followed the people-smuggling trail, out of the Kurdish safe haven and through a maze of countries in which the probity of the border guards was flexible enough to permit passage. It was a crooked road in all senses, with cheats and exploiters at every turn, and it was striking to see it.