Last night's viewing - Afghanistan: The Great Game, BBC2; The Queen and I, ITV1

 

Television histories don't usually spend a lot of time establishing their presenter's credentials. Unless they've really gone populist and handed the job over to Richard Hammond, we're supposed to take it for granted that the person on screen actually knows what he or she is talking about.

But credentials can always be slipped into these things in one way or another. It didn't exactly hurt, for example, that we saw Rory Stewart greeting some dinner guests in Pashtun at the beginning of Afghanistan: The Great Game, or that snapshots of his solo walk across the country, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, were flashed on to the screen from time to time. The implication was clear: Stewart is himself a contemporary equivalent of the Victorian scholar-adventurers he was talking about, a man prepared – literally – to walk the walk and talk the talk.

I imagine some rival historians of Afghan history can match his immersion in the country's culture and terrain, but I bet there aren't many who could view the fatal abandonment of Kabul at the end of the first Afghan war from a perspective as intimately knowing as Stewart's. When he was serving as a deputy governor in Iraq for the Coalition, he also found himself besieged by enraged locals and offered safe passage in return for a surrender of arms. He thought it was a trap and decided to fight it out. But Major-General Elphinstone accepted such a deal and lost his entire army, bar one ragged survivor who made it to Jellallabad. Different countries entirely, of course, but Stewart's experience makes it tricky to dismiss him as an armchair pacifist.

He is at pains here to rub salt into the wounds of history. When he says, of the prelude to the first Anglo-Afghan war in 1839, that "the hawks decided the answer was regime-change" he wants us to be in no doubt at all about the contemporary lessons to be drawn from all previous great-power incursions into the country; that we're simply repeating the follies of our forebears. The reasons seem to be much the same too, a stew of imperial paranoia and ignorant simplification that always foments into violence. A dodgy dossier was used to provoke the first British attempt to subdue Afghanistan – and the campaign was conducted with an imperial swagger that is curiously reminiscent of the Americans on the march, carrying with them every comfort of home. The 16th Lancers took a pack of foxhounds with them into Afghanistan in 1839.

What we have repeatedly failed to understand, Stewart argues, is Afghani pride in resistance. "We have accepted poverty," said a member of the royal family, "because we want to be free." You wondered whether the reverse might be true too; that they fetishise freedom (and pride) because they don't have anything else. But either way it's bad news for foreign invaders, whether their intentions are punitive or evangelistic. Afghan children grow up knowing about a battle that we would prefer to forget – the Battle of Maiwand in Helmand in 1880, when the British Army was defeated with the loss of nearly 1,000 men. That engagement persuaded General Roberts that discretion might be the better part not just of valour but of statecraft too. "Offensive though it may be to our pride," he wrote, "the less they see of us the less they will dislike us." It's almost certainly true 130 years on.

The Queen and I was a programme of Platonic and unimprovable dullness, consisting of home-movies of Her Majesty visiting her subjects and her subjects being reduced to that bovine state of wonder that she always seems to induce in people. As well as the archive footage those who had taken and appeared in the films were interviewed about their "magical memories" – randomly shuffling the words "gracious", "wonderful", and "flawless complexion". I lapsed into unconsciousness after about 15 minutes.

News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower