Last Night's Viewing: The Iraq War, BBC2
Confessions of a Male Stripper, Channel 4
What went through Tony Blair's mind when he was invited to take part in The Iraq War, the latest of Brook Lapping's fascinating exercises in behind-the-scenes history? Better out than in, presumably.
With the battle over the ethics and purpose of the war still hot, he could hardly abandon the trench he's manned for the past 10 years. He must have known, though, that whatever he said was going to be hostage to the selections of the film's makers and the implicit commentary of the editing suite. So what went through his mind, I wonder, when he saw how he made his very first appearance in the series?
The remark itself was potentially explosive: "I had taken the view we needed really to remake the Middle East and therefore, in the end, you're going to have to go through this long and drawn-out and sometimes bloody process of transition." But what it was bracketed by – images of corpses on the streets of post-invasion Baghdad – provided a kind of detonator. So it was about regime change, you thought. And a brilliant scarlet puddle in a dusty gutter underlined the fact that there was nothing metaphorical about Mr Blair's language.
It's hardly a final verdict on those events, of course, though I imagine a lot of viewers will be happy to take it as such. But it's just far too early still to see the Iraq war with any kind of dispassionate judgement. What you can do – and what The Iraq War did in a gripping manner – is begin to fill out the known knowns (to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld) with the grit of historical immediacy. Last night's film was less interesting for its arguments, which we've heard endlessly rehearsed before in most cases, than for added human perspective and detail. Most striking in that respect was an Iraqi perspective on the war, provided both by members of the Iraqi Secret Service and General Ra'ad al-Hamdani, a senior Republican Guard officer who had a front-row view of Saddam's hubris.
Hamdani, who must have a fair amount of nerve, warned Saddam before the outbreak of war that his obsolete tanks would be sitting ducks for the American pilots. He then had to wait out the length of an Iraqi cabinet meeting to discover whether Saddam would shoot him for his candour, or simply ignore it. Saddam did the latter, which was how Hamdani was also in a position to witness the lunatic grandiosity of Saddam's self-delusion.
After he'd defeated the Coalition forces, Saddam told him, he was to drive on to liberate Palestine from the Israeli yoke. The revelations from the British side were a little less momentous, including Jack Straw's recollection of finding himself sitting alongside Dustin Hoffman during a dash to Washington on Concorde. But there are hints of revelations yet to come (in another 10 or 20 years' time perhaps) in some of the passing remarks. "The CIA had got three members of Saddam's security team to spy for them," the voiceover noted at one point, when describing a pre-emptive attempt at regime decapitation. I can't wait for the film, in which we find out how they did that, but in the meantime The Iraq War will do very well.
Confessions of a Male Stripper applied editorial construction for argumentative purposes too, beginning with Danny, 19, who thinks that stripping is a dream job, and contrasting him pointedly with Lotan, 24, who knows all too well that it isn't. In between times, a lot of young men with improbably ripped abdomens waved their whipped-cream-smeared money-makers in women's faces. David Richards – a self-styled "Simon Cowell of the stripping world" – seems to be the one man who's really got the industry worked out. He sits in an office above Howard's Family Butchers in Essex, keeping his pants on and doing what looks to be a roaring trade in other men's sausages.
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