Last night's viewing: Marianne Faithfull unearths Nazi-era intrigue in Who Do You Think You Are?

 

OK, so Marianne Faithfull was once a convent girl who became a 1960s wild child, had a baby with an art dealer and then a four-year relationship with Mick Jagger before becoming a homeless heroin addict and roaming the streets of London like a latter-day Ophelia. This generous quota of melodrama and heartbreak in early life all sounded a bit tame, though, compared to what her mother and maternal grandparents went through during the Second World War.

Who Do You Think You Are? unearthed so much Nazi-era intrigue that this hour rivalled the Hitler "in colour" documentary aired earlier in the week, at least for its unravelling of secret history. "Astonishing", Faithfull kept saying, as each new kernel was unearthed, though she gave away little emotion other than the occasional surprise and a wry knowingness ("I knew it," she exclaimed, when it turned out that her Austrian mother had exaggerated her noble lineage).

The Austrian side of her family tree experienced some astonishing acts of bravery, tragedy and struggle. And nobility, too – in both senses of the word. Her half-Jewish mother, Eva von Sacher-Masoch (or Baroness Erisso), had been a Weimar-era dancer in Berlin's heyday, and then got in with a group of avant garde performers as Nazi tensions built in Germany, forcing her to return to Austria.

Her grandfather, who had aristocratic roots dating back to the Habsburg empire, married a Jewish woman – Faithfull's grandmother – joined the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Austria at the height of the war, and ended up being arrested and hung by his hands in torture chambers at the age of 60. His wife, who had helped him in these highly dangerous covert activities and who had come to feel the "guilt" of being Jewish, ended up being raped by the Red Army soldiers who liberated the country. So did Faithfull's mother.

Faithfull already knew some of this and said that the rape had a devastating effect not only on her married life (she separated from her husband, Marianne's father, after six years, and drank heavily after that) but on Marianne too. "She hated men and passed it on to me," she said, shortly after talking about leaving Jagger. It was a quietly startling moment, more so when she added that it was only when she hit 50 that she was able to be intimate with a partner without being drunk or on drugs.

The only omission in this investigation was the silence around her paternal side. Her father, Major Robert Glynn Faithfull, was in the British Army. That's all we found out about him. But it was revelation enough for Faithfull. Facts and truth is what she had wanted, and got. "The family is the ground you stand on. The ground had been put back. Thank you."

Revelation still more rooted in fact came from Brian Cox in Science Britannica. Cox departed from his usual comfort zone of pure physics, with all its splitting atoms and what-not, to enter discursive terrain on the morality of science. He kicked off with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein – good ploy for reeling in science-phobes, Brian.

Shelley's doctor was likened to Dr Giovanni Aldini, who tried to bring a corpse back to life using electricity, and was forced to flee Britain for his "dangerous" morality. Cox's point was that much of new science has been seen as the "dark arts". Well, it's not exactly a new idea and the debate runs in the arts too, from Frankenstein to Bertolt Brecht's Galileo, but Cox's inquiry was focused. "Images of mad scientists have haunted British science. I want to find out why."

He took in fears around GM from within the scientific community in the 1970s to nuclear power and animal experimentation. A provocative – and understandable – hour, though Cox seemed to be making a subtle ethical equivalence between the experiments that doctors of old conducted on corpses to modern scientists on animals.

twitter.com/Arifa_Akbar

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing