Last Night's TV - Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, Channel 4; Luther, BBC1

Innocents in the line of fire

This film contains very disturbing images," warned Jon Snow at the beginning of
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields. It would, he continued, depict "death, injury, execution and evidence of sexual abuse and murder". He was right too, though when the final credits rolled you couldn't help but feel that the worst lay somewhere off screen, less in the atrocities shown than in the moral debasement that had led to them being filmed in the first place, and the terrible banality of the conversations that went on as they were filmed. Two utterly distinct kinds of footage had gone into the making of Channel 4's account of the closing weeks of the war against the Tamil Tigers. Firstly, there was video filmed by refugees trapped in the appalling "no fire zones" established by the Sri Lankan government, footage knowingly recorded to document a crime. And then there was video recorded by the criminals, as a souvenir of their own barbarity. And grim as the former was, it was the latter that truly shocked and that provided incontrovertible evidence that war crimes had taken place.

Channel 4's film addressed a crime of omission as well – the failure of the international community to effectively protest against the treatment of civilians in the closing stages of the civil war. It began with the withdrawal of the United Nations from Kilinochchi, the Tamil capital in the north, after the Sri Lankan government had announced that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the UN mission, a move interpreted here as a premeditated plan to remove inconvenient witnesses. What followed was a lethal kind of kettling, as Tamil civilians found themselves squeezed between the ruthlessness of their own soldiers (who weren't above using them as a human shield) and the aggression of the Sri Lankan army. The "no fire zones" turned out to be a bloody joke, being repeatedly shelled. And the Tamils' makeshift hospitals were hit so frequently that they eventually asked the Red Cross not to pass on their GPS co-ordinates to the other side, fearing that they were being used for targeting rather than avoidance.

Nothing you saw in the first half of the programme could conclusively prove that charge, or confirm the belief that the Sri Lankans would pause after one shell and then fire another to kill the rescuers, though it did corroborate eyewitness descriptions of appalling conditions on the shrinking strip of land occupied by the Tamils. Because it was filmed by the victims, it's all too easy for the Sri Lankan government to argue that it represents only the chaos of an ugly war, rather than hard evidence of a war crime. But their only workable strategy with the film that followed, though, was to dismiss it as a fake, since it incontrovertibly showed Sri Lankan soldiers executing prisoners in cold blood. It hadn't looked fake to Channel 4's technical analysts, and I don't think it would have looked fake to any viewer outside the Sri Lankan High Commission. "These are our state property. Let's shoot," said an off-camera voice, as bound prisoners were murdered. "Is there no one here with the balls to shoot a terrorist?" yelled another soldier, impatient with his colleagues' irresolution in front of three kneeling prisoners. Most horrible of all was the ogling trophy footage of dead women stripped naked: "I really want to cut her tits off," someone muttered, "if no one was around."

The Sri Lankan government's only response to these disgusting documents has been to question Channel 4's "standards and fairness", presumably confident that there's no great appetite in the international community to pursue the matter. The failure of the UN Security Council to insist on an independent investigation is "inexplicable and morally quite indefensible," said Steve Crawshaw of Amnesty International. But it's all too explicable I fear, even if the explanation involves a squalid combination of realpolitik and self-interest. "Will they be failed again?" asked Snow at the end, over footage of Tamil civilians pleading for help. The answer is probably yes, and the fact that this angry and powerful film wasn't felt important enough to bump The Fairy Jobmother from an earlier slot might be counted as one symptom of the failure. We care, just not quite enough.

Real atrocities get edged towards the graveyard slots, but fictional ones can still command primetime. Luther – the BBC's dysfunctional detective series (the adjective applies to both nouns) – is back, with Luther having been cleared of murdering his wife. I think he's still brooding though, because his breakfast appeared to consist of a cup of a coffee and a game of Russian roulette, something of a kill-or-cure antidote to early-morning sluggishness. Having survived, it was off to work at a new unit devoted to Serious and Serial Crime, where he finds himself on the trail of an exhibitionist serial killer whose ambition is to remind London's jaded citizens "what it's like to be really scared". After killing two women with a flensing knife, he arranges for his third murder to be streamed live by webcam to Luther's office so that he can talk the hapless detectives through it. "He's taunting us," said Luther, demonstrating his intuitive grasp of criminal psychology. Every now and then, Luther goes off to flirt with Alice Morgan, the psychopath who has a bit of a thing for him and expresses her insanity by talking very slowly through a suggestive half-smile. It's all very silly, but fairness compels me to add that they'd come up with a very effective last-minute shock. My pen hit the ceiling.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning