Last Night's TV - I Am Slave, Channel 4; In Their Own Words: British Novelists, BBC4

Free spirit who stole the heart

Those of us old enough to remember Roots, the 1977 mini-series inspired by Alex Haley's best-selling story of his African-American forebears , were swept back in time by the early scenes in
I Am Slave, in which slave-traders attacked a village in the Nuba mountains of Sudan and carried off girls to be sold like cattle in Khartoum. It was Clive James, writing about Roots in The Observer all those years ago, who noted that the African village raided by the dastardly slave-traders seemed to be populated entirely by philosophers, rather hammering the message that the villagers were the cream of their culture, the traders the dregs of theirs.

I Am Slave was similarly monochromatic; the father of Malia, the girl whose story this was, was a proud and noble warrior, champion wrestler of his tribe, master-storyteller and, indeed, philosopher. By contrast, Malia was forced into domestic service in Khartoum by a woman who made Cruella de Vil look like a Blue Peter presenter. It was Good vs Evil, rendered as Dagenham & Redbridge vs Manchester United. One was no match for the other, the easy supremacy of evil confirmed when, through a window while out with her mistress, Malia caught a tantalising glimpse of her beloved father, the champion wrestler having taken a job as a city binman in his desperation to find her.

None of this was presented chronologically. The story leapt back and forth, so we already knew that Malia wound up imprisoned in a big house in London with Cruella's marginally less horrid cousin. There, the family chauffeur took pity on her, and would have given her shelter, only you can overdo these things. "Small house, tricky wife," he muttered by way of an excuse, so Malia had to look elsewhere for salvation, eventually finding it in the form of a black passer-by who fortuitously turned out to be not from St Lucia or for that matter St Albans, but Sudanese just like her, and who recognised her as the princess she was. The ending was truly affecting, Malia crying her eyes out on the phone to her father. She had been taken when she was 12; she was now 18. A caption informed us that there are up to 5,000 such slaves in London.

This was heavy fare for a Bank Holiday, and ironically it was a sweet old woman who really thrashed the living daylights out of poor Malia: Miss Marple over on ITV1. But a Bank Holiday is as good a time as any to consider the circumstances of those less fortunate than ourselves, in this case those for whom holidays, let alone paid holidays, are non-existent. On the whole, Jeremy Brock (writer) and Gabriel Range (director) did a decent job. I Am Slave could have been less heavy-handed in parts, and I very much doubt whether they speak quite such excellent English up in the Nuba mountains, but it was a stirring, important drama with some powerful performances, above all by Wunmi Mosaku, as the older Malia.

Horrifying though it is in 2010 to know that there are so many domestic slaves in London, at least we've made strides in other ways since the convulsive 1970s and 1980s, recalled in the concluding instalment of In Their Own Words: British Novelists. It wasn't quite as absorbing as the first documentary in this fine three-part series, which unearthed some fantastic archive material, but it was still a great treat to see dear old Arthur Marshall of blessed memory, listening to Angela Carter reading from one of her own fantasy novels, and then sweetly saying that, beautifully as it was written, he preferred novels that began "Mrs Henderson walked slowly into Sainsbury's and purchased a pound of cod." Then, he said, you know where you are, and I must say I'm with Arthur, but Carter was equal to his jibe. "I'd like to know the Sainsbury's where you can buy cod," she said.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • 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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power