"My new life in Sheffield will be paradise," said one of the Karen women featured in Moving to Mars, Mat Whitecross's touching film about Burmese refugees, showing in the True Stories strand. Don't get your hopes up too high, love, you thought uneasily. I'm sure life in Sheffield has much to recommend it, but the city isn't often intellectually twinned with paradise, and there was a certain irony in the fact that Daisi was leaving behind precisely the kind of palm-fringed landscape that the concept tends to summon in the British mind. For us, paradise is tropical, not a Yorkshire council estate in winter. Then again, the little patch of paradise that Daisi was abandoning was limbo as far as she and her family were concerned, a refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma border where they lived suspended between home and away.
It didn't appear to be a terrible place, as these things go, bound together by a strong sense of community and full of little details that confounded your expectations of hopeless misery. Thaw Htoo, one of two fathers featured in the film, whiled away the hours by playing Carpenters songs on his electronic keyboard and running a small church, while his counterpart, Jo-Kae, tended to his pig and smallholding. Under the auspices of the refugee organisation that was about to transplant them, they also attended orientation classes, busily practising their handshakes and their How are yous and Good mornings. And again, a nervousness bubbled up about the gap between their preparations for the future and what it might actually deliver. A kind of reverse-patriotism came into play, the knowledge that as refugees and immigrants they might get a crash course in more hostile greetings.
Moving to Mars would surely have shamed such instincts in any who saw it, revealing the emotional cost of emigration and the courage of those who were taking it on for the sake of their children. Unfortunately, the kind of people who shout at immigrants almost certainly won't have been watching it. They missed a film that managed to combine the practical realities of life as a refugee – weighing your belongings down to the last pound so that you can cram a distilled version of your life into an airline's baggage allowance – with a gentle humour. Thaw Htoo decided that he would sell his cherished keyboard in the camp. "According to the information there are many keyboards in Sheffield," he said solemnly. As the coach headed up the M1, he hummed "Country Roads", going home to a place he'd never been before.
Sheffield's embrace appeared to be generous. One of the children was bullied for a while at school, but otherwise there was little sign of hostility, only of a slightly self-conscious desire to appear broad-minded. "You're very welcome... my heart goes out to you," said the Jobcentre lady, after outlining the meagre options available for an illiterate Burmese man with no English. But the strain still told. The two families, housed next door to each other, fell out and Thaw Htoo's son left home to live in a hostel on his own. You worried too about the utility of the English course Jo-Kae had brought with him, with practice phrases such as "I have on my mind poultry farming" and "Salute the union flag". By the end – as Thaw Htoo embarked on a civil engineering course, his face warier and wearier than it had been before – you were left in no doubt at all about the costs of immigration to the parents' generation. They had certainly naturalised enough to realise that paradise might look more like the place they'd left than the one they'd come to, even if they understood that their children felt very differently.
In Amanda Holden's Fantasy Lives, the actress and Botox billboard notionally samples her dreams of an alternative life. Last week, she did a stint as a Paris showgirl and this week, she went off to LA to learn what it's like to be a stuntwoman. "This is my ultimate fantasy," she said, just before getting some lessons in stunt-driving from the woman who drove the motorcycle in The Matrix. I'm afraid I don't buy that for a moment, Amanda. I have a suspicion that your ultimate Hollywood fantasy involves a little golden statuette, rather than a spot 16 feet down on the final-credit roller. Still, she had fun and – though this is slightly embarrassing to report given that it's been open season on Amanda Holden recently – she was fun too, cackling like a maniac whenever things got a bit exciting and gamely revealing that she couldn't squeeze into the pair of leather trousers one of her mentors lent her for a shoot: "I'm obviously a bit of a porker compared to most stunt women," she said, flashing the unbridgeable gap at her waistband. The series is synthetic navel fluff, but she's a lot more likeable in this than she is sitting in a jury box.Reuse content