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
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
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.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map