Review: Sit up, stand up, stand up for a fight

THERE was a touch of the family video to In Search of our Ancestors (BBC2), a whiff of cosiness about the way that Donald Johanson led you through the story of his discovery of the oldest human fossil yet found. So while he was worrying about the origins of the species, examining the parched ground of Ethiopia for traces of our hairy forefathers, I was fretting about the origin of the series. A co-production, surely, Professor? That hint of condescension, those vestigial traces of primary school that are so characteristic of American science documentaries? 'But how could hippos and giraffes live in this harsh desert?' asked Johanson, up to his ankles in dusty gravel - Yes, you at the back there. That's right] It didn't always look like this. Very good, you must have been paying attention for the last 100 years.

Still, the matter of the series is fascinating, even if it is conveyed in a slightly confusing mix of documentary and am-dram reconstructions. While hunting for fossils in 1974 Johanson stumbled over a knee- joint. He was looking for the elusive connection between our nearest known ancestors, the apes, and early humans, and these little pieces of bones didn't fit his preconceptions.

It had been thought that the missing link would be something that walked a bit like an ape but thought a bit like a human - in other words, that expanded brain- size was the trigger for our evolution. The knee-joint belonged to a three-and-a-half- foot-high skeleton which the team named Lucy (represented here by a small actress in very urgent need of a depilatory) and it suggested the exact opposite - that our ancestors had first learnt to walk upright and that increased brain size had followed later. Nature found work for idle hands, which had previously been occupied in getting about but which could now expand their repertoire.

After some three million years of tinkering they had come up with the flame- thrower, a hellish piece of human ingenuity which had seared the memories of those who saw it used during the Second World War on the island of Saipan. In Secret History (C4), which told of how many Japanese troops and civilians committed suicide rather than surrender to American GIs, one veteran recalled the peculiar mewing noise it made, repeating it again and again as though it was a nagging tune he couldn't shake.

The film made much of the Japanese propaganda that persuaded the defenders that it was better to do almost anything rather than surrender, but made slightly less of the American propaganda that allowed ordinary boys not to trouble themselves too much about who was inside the caves they were cauterising. But then the American propaganda (stories of a cruel and tenacious enemy) was a lot closer to the truth. Two Japanese survivors recalled how children had been murdered because their crying might have revealed a hiding place - in one case the mothers had been ordered to kill their own babies by soldiers who feared for their lives.

When American troops closed in, having fought their way across the island, hundreds leapt from cliffs as helpless soldiers looked on. Others had killed themselves earlier, crowding tightly round a single Japanese conscript who would then pull the pin on a grenade. 'In our group the hand grenade wouldn't go off,' one old lady said. 'That's the only reason I survived.' She remembered the soldier hammering it desperately to get it to work, an odd sort of memory for a grandmother to have.

The pressure not to surrender wasn't simply a matter of immediate fear. One soldier, who had hidden for months and had been declared dead, recalled the mixed reception when he got home, the embarrassment of having a dead hero transformed to a living son. 'My father's face expressed ambiguous emotions,' he said. Though the film didn't mention it, it's an intriguing fact that Saipan is now quite a popular holiday resort for Japanese tourists, with tours of the suicide cliffs and caves a speciality.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence