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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future