Last Night's Viewing: Kids in the Middle, BBC4 - Our Food, BBC2

 

I thought of Tolstoy watching Kids in the Middle, Brian Hill's grim and engrossing account of the wreckage of a marriage, and specifically of those famous lines about how all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. It's one of the questions that hovers behind pretty much every documentary about a social issue: is this film representative of a common experience? Or is it representative only of what you see in front of you? To be able to answer "yes" to the first question is to armour your film against all kinds of accusations, or at least to offer a rationale for some invasions of privacy. But very often it's the second kind of film that really stays with you. By the end of Kids in the Middle, I'm not sure you'd learned a great deal about the kind of contact centres that were its notional subject. But you'd been given a painfully vivid picture of how a bad marriage can rot a family and hurt children.

For most of the first 20 minutes, you were wondering what Hill was keeping from you. He must know, you thought, why it is that Keith can only see his daughters on neutral ground and under supervision. So why doesn't he tell us, so that we can stop speculating and looking for clues? But then you found that looking for clues was partly what the film was about, weighing Dawn and Keith's incompatible accounts of the failure of their relationship for some idea of where the truth lay. Was he an example of the unjustly dispossessed father we've read so much about? Or did her wariness have some darker source that would only be clearer later? Both parties took the camera as a sympathetic witness, unaware that it was actually fatally dispassionate.

When it began it looked as if Keith might be the victim and Dawn the difficult one. But there was something odd about his encounters with his girls, a combination of rhetorical commitment to family fun and a dreary catechistical tone in actuality. He actually tried to give them homework at one point, in a quixotic attempt to kindle their love of reading. The children were bored, uneasy, and in one case openly hostile. And though you couldn't discount the possibility that that was the result of torn loyalties, the evidence started to stack up against Keith. He'd been caught letting Dawn's tyres down one night after their separation. And he'd questioned his daughters about their mother's friendship with a work colleague in ways that had failed to protect them from his suspicions. "You're very scared for your children's welfare," he said, explaining his actions. Not scared enough to see that your fear was the very thing that was damaging them, you thought.

What the film might be doing to them was another question, and not one that could be easily dismissed. In their eagerness to put their own side of the story, neither parent seemed to recognise that they were exposing their daughters horribly, and airing secrets that could only add to their distress. "Dawn, you tried to kill Nicola!" Keith had shouted at his wife during one row, alluding to the fact that she'd considered terminating her last pregnancy. Nicola, who was present when he'd shouted it, already knew this. Now everybody else does too. Should Hill have been more protective of these girls than their own parents had managed? Perhaps. You couldn't really say their privacy had been sacrificed to a societal good. But you couldn't easily stop watching once you'd started either, so skilfully was this commonplace tragedy unfolded.

Someone finally seems to have got Giles Coren's medication levels right. There was a bit of silly attention seeking in Our Food, but for the most part he was surprisingly bearable. The programme also included the memorable sight of a dead turkey being degassed, a bit like an avian whoopie cushion. I shall think of it next Christmas.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
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.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition