The Guardian 9 February, 2005
TV programs worth watching
Sun 13 Feb — Sat 19 Feb
One of the pleasures of Foyle's War (ABC 8.30pm Sundays) is the way it is prepared to tackle moral dilemmas and the less heroic aspects of WW2. The title of this week's episode, "Enemy Fire", is a grisly pun, the subject being airmen burned in shot-down or crashed planes.
Bill Paterson, an accomplished actor — here in very ebullient mood — plays a pioneering plastic surgeon who takes over a local stately home as an RAF burns hospital. However, someone begins carrying out acts of sabotage, small at first but escalating into the potentially fatal.
Meanwhile Foyle's son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden), stationed nearby, has a run-in with a mechanic who neglects essential repairs in favour of securing black market goods with which to inveigle his way into the good graces and the beds of various married women in the town.
Andrew is the pivot of another theme: extreme stress, otherwise known (but not then) as combat fatigue. A man who had had as much as he could take and simply walked away from the war would be court-martialled and at the least have his record marked "LMF" for "Lacking Moral Fibre".
Andrew has flown more than his fair share of missions and is showing unmistakable signs of strain. Then there is a murder.
A characteristic of a well-written, well-acted and well-directed program is when it can hold your interest during a scene of inactivity without any background music. Foyle's War can do it (and does it here).
Curiously, near the end of this episode there is an uncharacteristic use of the kind of intrusive patriotic music one associates with traditional "RAF movies" (like The Dam Busters or Reach For The Sky). It is not inappropriate in the context of the episode but stylistically it jars just a little.
There are a couple of anachronistic Americanisms in the program, that make one wonder whether the writer has succumbed to the dominance of American culture or whether the program has been sold to the US and the dialogue is being made more "understandable" to our American cousins.
It was always my understanding that, in the British and Australian military, the shorthand for being Absent Without Leave was "A.W.L." The Americans, for whom "without" is apparently two words, use the expression "Awol".
It therefore jars to hear Andrew Foyle, Battle of Britain pilot, telling his father he is "Awol". A slip? Or a concession to the American market?
I love everything about the various art programs of the diminutive nun Sister Wendy: her lisp, her obvious knowledge, her buck teeth, her infectious enthusiasm and her lack of pretentious airs.
In Sister Wendy's American Collection (ABC 11.10pm Sundays) she flits through the great art museums of the USA in her old-fashioned religious habit like some giant but friendly bat.
This six-part series stretches her somewhat: in tonight's episode (Boston Museum of Fine Arts), in addition to paintings by Gauguin and Georgia O'Keefe, she ranges over Early American furniture, colonial silver, Mimbres Indian pottery, Chinese ceramics and a Japanese Zen garden.
Is there nothing this woman doesn't know?
Last year the ABC, bowing to government pressure, tried to axe the popular schools series BTN (ABC 11.30am Tuesdays). More correctly known as Behind The News, BTN was defended with a vehemence that must have surprised the conservatives who wanted it dropped.
It has everything to get up right-wingers' noses: it is a news and current affairs program aimed directly at school children. And it does not unquestioningly cop the crap put out by the establishment.
It seeks to encourage kids to investigate, be inquisitive, make up their own minds, think for themselves. Dangerous stuff in "the wrong hands"!
The fight for BTN, produced in Adelaide by the ABC Specialist Factual TV Unit, appears to have been won, at least for now. It remains to be seen to what extent it yields to the pressure on its journalists and presenters to conform to the conservatives' line.
The Doctor, the Depleted Uranium and the Dying Children, screening on in the Cutting Edge timeslot (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday), follows Professor Siegwart-Horst Gunther, a former colleague of Albert Schweitzer, and Tedd Weyman, Deputy Director of the Uranium Medical Research Centre in Toronto, as they travel to Iraq to search for evidence that DU (depleted uranium) ammunition was used by the ton in the recent war.
They are convinced that DU is responsible for Gulf War Syndrome that has undermined the health of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians. This gives the program a strange sense of déjà vu. Everyone knows DU causes congenital abnormalities in children, Gulf War Syndrome and much more.
The only thing that makes DU an issue is the brazen refusal of the US and British governments to acknowledge the evidence and admit the truth.
When the American H M Stanley (utterer of the immortal line "Dr Livingstone, I presume?") explored the Congo River in 1870s, his discoveries were closely followed by the capitalists of Europe.
A group of European investors, with King Leopold of Belgium at their head, set up a committee to exploit Stanley's discoveries. They got him to establish trading posts along the upper Congo and to open negotiations with local rulers.
By 1884, the Association Internationale du Congo had signed "treaties" with no less than 450 independent African entities and claimed the "right" to rule the lot of them as one country.
At the carve-up of Africa known as the Berlin West Africa Conference, in 1884-85, its name was changed to the Congo Free State and European powers recognised Leopold as its sovereign. An area of 2.1 million square kilometres, what is today the state of Democratic Republic of Congo, with a population at the time of between 20 and 30 million, became the private property of a Belgian company.
And they set out to extract maximum surplus value from their new possession. The population they regarded as a free labour force that needed the lash and a reign of terror to induce them to work, gathering wild rubber, palm oil and ivory.
The taking of hostages and mutilation (chopping off of hands) was a routine way of forcing villages to supply labour for the company. So great was the savagery, that the population declined to around eight million.
The treatment of the Africans horrified missionaries and European visitors to the colony alike, and the country became notorious. When the British Consul, Roger Casement, issued a Report in 1904 damning the Belgians' activities in the Congo, Leopold was obliged to protect Belgian capitalist interests by handing over control to the Belgian Parliament.
[Roger Casement would later be hanged for treason by the British Government for supporting Irish independence.]
White King, Red Rubber, Black Death (SBS 8.30pm Wednesday) details this ghastly story, though in a rather odd way. Director Peter Bate uses documented accounts of Belgian atrocities to present an imaginary court case (a sort of Nuremberg trial) against King Leopold whom he compares to Adolf Hitler.
But what about the capitalists who invested in and profited from Leopold's venture?