TV review: Walking Wounded: Return to the Frontline, Channel 4
Murder on the Victorian Railway, BBC2
For CJ and Phil, the US medevac crew who picked up what was left of Giles Duley after he stepped on a Taliban landmine, it was a busy day but not an unprecedented one. A triple amputee, they explained in Walking Wounded: Return to the Frontline, is "not uncommon... but it definitely ups the 'oh no' factor." And if their "oh no" reading was high, you don't really want to imagine what was going through Duley's mind, lying flat on his back on a stretcher with not a lot left below the knees of both legs and the elbow of his left arm.
Actually, you didn't have to imagine it because Siobhan Sinnerton's remarkable film began with helmet-cam footage taken during his evacuation. It showed Duley conscious and responding as the American medics battled to save him, his teeth gritted in something between agony and determination. "Am I going to live?" he asked, shortly after one of the crew-men had punched a drain through his sternum. They warned him that it might hurt, which was an unnerving thought. His legs had just been blown off. You would have thought a medical procedure would scarcely trump that.
He did live, obviously. Or at least obviously to us now, watching him return to Afghanistan to complete the photographic project that was next on his list. But it wasn't obvious to his doctors or to the girlfriend back then. She initially felt he might have preferred to have died, and it was a thought that crossed his mind too, but after 30 operations to stabilise his injuries and get the grit of Afghanistan out of his flesh, it became clear that he wouldn't. And having worked out a way to take pictures with an artificial arm, Duley was absolutely determined to head back to Kabul: "It is about getting back to where I was," he said. "It's taking that pause button off, it's getting back to life."
It wasn't just personal therapy though, because Duley's subject was Afghanistan's civilian victims, whose prospects and treatment are very different to the level of care Duley received. He was in an army hospital 14 minutes after being injured, but some of the patients he saw here had had to travel for hours in the boot of someone's car. And they faced a prospect of life without assistance from a welfare state. Cruelly, in fact, they often were the welfare state as far as their dependants were concerned. "I was hoping he would look after me in my old age," said the father of one young man, after giving permission for his son's leg to be amputated, "When he loses his leg it means my life is over." The stigma against disability is fierce – one young woman, employed by the hospital as part of a deliberate policy to offer some hope to amputees, explained that someone had asked to marry her, but her own family had refused permission because she wouldn't be a fit mother. She wasn't the only one to shed tears during this distressing and moving film – on screen and in front of it.
Murder on the Victorian Railway, a kind of real-life Ripper Street, was fascinating, detailing the investigation of a horrid murder in a first-class train compartment that sent all kinds of tremors through a Victorian public still not entirely sure what they thought about this troublingly democratic form of transport. There's nothing like a crime for cutting a biopsy slice through a society, and this did it very well, connecting wealthy banker to south London prostitute and struggling German immigrants. Filming the reconstruction's actors in modern-day London both evoked the ghosts of the past that inhabit the city's streets and made you think about their contemporary equivalents. Fifty-thousand people watched the alleged culprit hang across the road from the Old Bailey. I bet you'd beat that box office if the same attraction was offered today.
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