TV: THOMAS SUTCLIFFE

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" `Skating mums' is a term that's used quite a lot in skating, and I would definitely be considered the skating-mum from hell," confessed Ellie Sykes at the beginning of Ambition (Channel 4). Initially, at least, Madonna Benjamin's film for Cutting Edge seemed intent on corroborating this guilty plea. There was the sequence in which Ellie delivered this touchingly maternal commentary after her daughter crashed to the ice: "Don't want the acting, don't want the tears ... Who cares? No one." Or there was the grim implication that she had long ago passed beyond the protective enclosure of the child labour laws: "I can't see the point in devoting all the time and energy to it if she's not going to do her job properly, because this is her job" said Ellie sternly, "time is ticking away and a day lost is a day nearer to retirement." The revelation that Ellie had been a child prize-winner herself, in the field of ballroom dancing, seemed to complete the picture of a woman resting the heavy burden of her own disappointments on the slight and delicate frame of her child.

That diagnosis - the obvious one when it comes to fiercely competitive parents - seemed to be confirmed by the other cases in Benjamin's film: a Lancashire couple who spent all their money and spare time supporting their daughter's involvement in top-level dressage, and a woman whose daughter travelled to dance competitions with a retinue of specialist supporters that would have done Elvis proud. In a slightly awkward excursion into reconstruction, the film even offered a black-and-white flashback, as the dressage mother recalled her own unhappy yearning for a pony, at last fulfilled in the shape of Minky, a glossy slab of horseflesh around which the family's life now revolved. Benjamin also arranged the women's protestations of personal detachment so that you could hear the hollow echo they struck off each other. "I want it because Caroline wants it," said the dancing mother as they travelled together to an audition for a small part with the Kirov Ballet. "I want her to pass because she wants to pass," said Ellie, practically unconscious with nerves as she waited for the verdicts of a skating test. In both cases you saw a picture of desperate need masquerading as selfless support.

But Benjamin's film wasn't glib in its judgements. Showing Ellie in a quieter moment, with her daughter affectionately twisting her mother's hair between her fingers, allowed you to see that there was more than stern discipline between the two, while the sacrifices made by Dionne's parents to equip her for the pricey world of dressage had a genuine sting of denial. The father, who seemed to be more oppressed by his wife's ambition than his daughter, looked a little rueful about the missed holidays and endless overtime, but even he spoke of his determination that she would be the first in the family to make her mark on the world. Such moments, along with the regular homilies about perseverance and hard work, reminded you that almost all parents have ambitions for their children - those shown here might have lost a sense of perspective about the matter and to have exposed themselves to terrible disappointment, but they still weren't as monstrous as those parents who don't give a damn at all.

Family life was presented in rather more mundane form in Juggling, another contribution to BBC2's intriguing Having It All season. The films for this series have all been prey to an odd double bind - because they are mostly about experiences common to a huge number of those watching, they walk a narrow line between the compulsively recognisable and the redundantly obvious. Peter Gordon's film strayed just a little too close to the latter - at least for anyone currently shackled to the familial treadmill of breakfast, school-runs, housework and bedtime. Why watch someone else doing it when in only a few hours the siren will go for your own Groundhog Day? But his film did offer one nicely pointed illustration of the gap between parents' ambitions for themselves and children's ambitions for their parents; as a trainee barrister put the phone down after turning down a dream job (the family came first), her son appeared in the doorway. "Mummy", he said solemnly, "I would like some sandwiches now."

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