Last Night's TV - Our War, BBC3; Poor Kids, BBC1; Angry Boys, BBC3

Beyond the call of duty

You know things are a bit serious when your airline offers you body armour for the descent, rather than a boiled sweet. I don't know whether the young men of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian registered that sobering flight announcement as they took their seats for the flight to Kandahar in the summer of 2007, but it was recorded inadvertently by one of their platoon sergeants, Simon Panter, who seems to have turned his video on at the beginning of their six-month deployment and simply left it running. Along with hours of footage from his colleagues' helmet cameras, recently released by the Ministry of Defence, his recordings formed the basis for
Our War, the first of three programmes giving a soldier's-eye view of the war in Afghanistan.

Armchair warriors have been on this front before, of course – face down in some Afghan ditch as the bullets whine past overhead. Ross Kemp went, among others, and there have been two recent feature film releases (Restrepo and Armadillo), which take you startlingly close to the action. Even so, Our War managed to deliver something fresh, with its concentration on a single action that played out over several hours. The platoon that went out in the morning was still relatively inexperienced. By the time they'd come back, they'd taken their first fatality, and they finally knew the difference between combat in theory and combat in practice.

It was an education they'd been craving, with the innocence of the unblooded. "Yes! This is what it's all about," shouted one of the soldiers as the Taliban first opened fire, his voice exultant. Another one, writing to his mother a few days before the operation, had told her that "everyone's dying to get some trigger time" – a line she understandably faltered over as she reread the letter, because he'd actually died getting it. Chris Gray, on point with a light machine gun, had been hit by a round that went through a gap in his body armour, and Our War concentrated on the small group of men who had to absorb that shock and try to evacuate him.

What it captured very well was how shocking shock can be – months of training dissolving in confusion and paralysis. "He's dead," said a boy's voice in tones of disbelief as Gray was turned over, much as he might have done if a video game had suddenly started shooting back. And although excellent graphics and retrospective interviews gave you a coherent sense of the battlefield, as soon as the raw footage returned it was dismantled again, by a chaos of undergrowth and yelling and gunfire. Adrenalin seemed to stun some of them and enrage others: "If he dies because of you three I am going to hate you for ever," bellowed the sergeant as Chris's mates struggled to carry him to a medical helicopter. When the adrenalin faded it left behind a pounding headache and a determination to reciprocate. "I actually wanted to kill someone," said the platoon's thoughtful lieutenant, as if it was an odd kind of thought for a soldier to have. He's since left the army to teach history, so I think he must have lost his appetite for war.

Jezza Neumann's film Poor Kids patrolled a less glamorous front line – the daily grind of living below the poverty line, again viewed from the perspective of those at the heart of the fight, in this case some of the 3.5 million children in Britain who live below the poverty line. And just as Our War had offered a piercing contrast between gung-ho machismo and the brutal realities, Poor Kids shimmered between the charming insouciance of childhood and a precocious knowledge of how tough the world can be. Sam – a bright, articulate boy who lives with his sister and half-brother – explained how cold it got when the gas money ran out and how he was teased at school because of his tattered trousers and the hand-me-down girl's shirt he had to wear. For his birthday, a relative had taken him for his first ever haircut, a present that didn't dismay Sam but made him beam at the thought of standing out less.

Courtney, a little girl from Bradford, chatted about her eczema and interrogated a more prosperous friend about the difference between their circumstances: "How come your family is different and they can go on holiday and our family can't?" "It's because my family isn't scared of heights," replied her friend solemnly. Moments like that meant it couldn't be all gloom. But the prevailing tone was of squalor and melancholy. "I don't want to have a wife," said Sam, who'd been abandoned by his mother on his second birthday, "just in case she leaves me, and then I'll have to be like dad, taking care of three children by himself." We are – an onscreen statistic informed us – 18th in a league table of 22 European countries in terms of child poverty, and the gloomy thought occurred that austerity cuts may well lead to a further relegation.

Alongside these two fine documentaries, the calculated heartlessness of Chris Lilley's Angry Boys looked very callow. It's too early for a final verdict, since Summer Heights High brilliantly managed to combine black comedy with a certain compassion for some of its grotesques. But fans of that series may find themselves disappointed by this one – and the character S.mouse – a middle-class rapper who craves street cred – is a serious miscalculation. Don't invite comparisons with Ali G unless you've got something seriously good up your sleeve.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?