Last Night's Viewing: The Murder Workers, Channel 4
The Tube: an Underground History, BBC2
"Nice as you are, I wish I'd never met you," said one of the mothers in The Murder Workers. She was talking to Alli, a woman nobody would want to meet in a professional capacity, since Alli is a member of Victim Support's homicide team, a group of specialist social workers who help the relatives of murder victims negotiate the immediate aftermath of the crime.
Jessie Versluys' film – as bleak a slice of life as you'd ever want to see – followed three of the workers as they attempted to blunt the impact of this peculiarly sharp form of grief. And it was immediately clear that their powers of bluntening are limited. The same woman asked Alli a question she's heard lots of times: "Am I ever going to feel better?" And her sympathetic pause spoke volumes. No, was the candid answer, but you may eventually be able to manage feeling bad more effectively.
In the end, The Murder Workers wasn't entirely without its fugitive gleams of light. Jackie, whose daughter had been murdered by her husband in front of their three children, won the battle to wrestle legal custody of her grandchildren away from the man who'd left them motherless.
When she took them away for their first foreign holiday she no longer had to ask his permission, which was something of a relief to her. And her oldest grandchild, Callum, was back in school regularly, having been helped through his grief by a bereavement charity brought in by Jackie's support worker, Carol. In the film's most wrenching moment, we watched Maisy, Callum's young sister, guilelessly describe what had happened on the day of the murder while Callum himself sat on the sofa, face buried in his hands.
The fictional treatment of murder is getting a little better mat registering the ragged hole it blows in continuing lives. The Killing started a trend, which you could also see at work in Broadchurch and can see currently in The Fall, to acknowledge that a murder isn't simply the initiation of a puzzle but an evolving catastrophe for those left behind. But writers could learn still more by watching Versluys' film, which captured the odd irrationality of grief, as well as its sly, bureaucratic torments.
"I don't want to not feel this," said a mother whose son had been killed by a single punch and a bad fall. "I feel this because I loved him so." Her sorrow, in other words, was one of the few consolations left to her. In another painful scene, the same woman was taken through the process of applying for government compensation (like many bereaved people she had little choice – the average cost to those left behind is around £37,000). "It's not what his life's worth," Alli reassured her as she sobbed at the meagreness of the figure."They couldn't afford it." I'm not quite sure how she, or her colleagues, can bear to go to work every morning. But The Murder Workers made it clear that their unwilling clients are usually very glad they do.
The Tube: an Underground History was a sprightly history of London's Underground, not quite as groundbreaking as the Victorian consortium that drove the Metropolitan Railway through the city, but continually enlivened by fascinating archive material and odd details. Faced with public complaints about the sulphurous conditions on the first underground line, the company ran an advertising campaign promoting the health benefits of inhaled smoke and steam, a nice corrective to any casual thoughts about the vigour of private enterprise.
The real pleasure of the thing, though, were the people who run the Underground now, including Iain, whose innovations in public-address candour had earned him an Evening Standard profile, and Parky, who helps keep rush-hour commuters safe with a sage and equable patience. Harry Beck's Tube map – a happy marriage of mass transport and circuit-diagram graphics – got the big cheer. But the workers were the true stars.
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