The story that `Newsnight' never tells

TV Review
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Last Sunday, Screen Two opened with Guy Jenkin's A Very Open Prison, a political satire from a writer who likes to be so up-to-the-minute that his work is never available for preview. Yesterday, Scene (BBC2's lunchtime drama slot for 13- to 17-year-olds) televised the first fictional film about the war in Yugoslavia to reach British viewers. This exception seems to prove the rule that producers are as reluctant as politicians to get involved in the Balkan conflict. No prizes for guessing which production was the dbut of the BBC's absurdly titled Rapid Response Topical Drama unit.

It's a little known truth, but Scene is the last redoubt of efficient, high-speed drama. Your average Screen Two (excepting Jenkin's gimmicky contribution) has the turnaround ability of a steam roller, what with all those over-remunerated executives putting spanners in the works. By contrast, Scene's "The Blood That's in You", by a young Anglo-Croat writer called Christina Katic, took two and a half days to film on cheap and cheerful videotape. In half an hour it communicated more information about the war as a human story than Newsnight, in the numerous chances it has had during four years of fighting, has ever managed to convey.

It seems perverse that Scene is restricted to daytime TV and school audiences. Its production values put it on a par with a sitcom or soap, but then, where peak-time drama is concerned, we've all got used to peak-cost output with rolling hills, cityscapes, saloon cars. And, when the subject is war, we've got used to realistic bombs and bodies. Making expressive use of light and perspective, "The Blood That's in You" rose above design limitations, ingeniously harnessing the studio's tight space to the idea that civil war causes civic claustrophobia.

The story concerned two families, one Serb, one Croat, living as neighbours in a Croatian village. As Croatia declares independence, they allow the inevitable wedge to be driven into the tiny fissure that was always there between them. By the end, when all four parents and a grandfather are dead and only the previously amorous Serbian daughter and Croatian son remain, the level of mistrust is such that he threatens to kill her on suspicion of betraying his family to the marauding Serbs.

On one level, it's an easy story to tell, with its snowballing narrative momentum and a geometrically exact set of relationships, but Katic's script skilfully puts flesh on the bones. The subconscious harmony between the neighbours, built up by a lifetime of sharing the same street but overriden by events out of their control, was succinctly captured in the moment when, as if by instinct, they simultaneously lit cigarettes.

Just as deftly, the intrusion of an Australian freedom fighter of Croatian descent obliquely summed up UN policy in Yugoslavia, pointing out the absence of official military intervention.

When you've only got half an hour, even the lightest brushstrokes need punch. In two lines of dialogue, Katic tabled her prediction for a post- war future in which all sides will argue about who the war harmed most: when both mothers are killed by the same bomb, the Croatian father wonders why his wife didn't survive until he returned from his shopping trip. "To suffer like my mother did?" snaps the Serbian daughter. Good education like this ought not to be reserved just for those in school.

Baadasss TV (C4), the black version of Eurotrash, ran a feature on the only car worker from Dagenham to be mentioned in the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill hearings. Long Dong Silver, a 1970s soft porn stud with whose 18- inch appendage the good judge liked to compare his own, turned out to be a prosthetic fraud. Uncannily like this programme, in actual fact. A premature April Fool's joke, perhaps.