The Guardian 20 July, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun July 24 — Sat July 30

First up this week is a bottler of a program: Sherlock Holmes And The Case Of The Silk Stocking (ABC 8.30pm Sunday) made by commercial British production entity Tiger Aspect and US public broadcaster WGBH for the BBC.

The last Tiger Aspect attempt at a Holmes story was an adaptation, by Allan Cubitt, of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. That was an unfortunate effort, marred by frequent and ill-advised departures from the original and a very non-cerebral depiction of Holmes (played on that occasion by Richard Roxburgh).

As I said at the time, it could just as well have been "an adaptation of one of the adventures of Holmes' literary rival, the action-oriented Sexton Blake".

Cubitt and the producers seem to have learnt from that experience — and learnt well: the new production is not an adaptation of Doyle at all, but is an original screenplay by Cubitt. There is a new director, Simon Caitlin-Jones, who has a nice eye for thick swirling fog, and a new actor to play Holmes, Rupert Everett.

Everett, with his dark, hooded eyes makes Holmes' drug addiction palpable; but he also presents what you might call "classic" Holmes — the detective who examines the evidence minutely and solves crimes by deduction, by applying reason to the evidence.

He is aided, as always, by Dr Watson, played here (as he was in the previous program) by Ian Hart, and also by Dr Watson's fiancιe, Mrs Vandeleur (Helen McCrory), a Freudian psychologist. Reliable but unimaginative Inspector Lestrade is played by Neil Dudgeon (Mrs Bradley's chauffeur in The Mrs Bradley Mysteries).

As young ladies of society are abducted seemingly at random and subsequently murdered, Holmes soon realises that they are dealing with a serial killer, a sexual sadist with a foot fetish in fact. The killer also has a baffling ability to seemingly be in two places at once.

This is a genuinely exciting, tense and entertaining period thriller, with excellent direction and first rate acting, costuming and set design.

Fans of Foyle's War will quickly see the strong family resemblance between Foyle's driver, Honeysuckle Weeks, and Roberta, the young woman whom Holmes enlists in a not wholly successful attempt trap the killer. She is played by Honeysuckle's sister, Perdita Weeks.

I have long maintained that the much-vaunted "war on drugs" benefits no one but those who profit from keeping the price of drugs high. Dependence on drugs has to be dealt with as a medical and social problem, not a military or police exercise.

Screening in Cutting Edge this week is the first part of a three-part documentary series Cocaine (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday). SBS notes that "documentary filmmaker Angus Macqueen spent 18 months on the cocaine trail across Latin America" to make the series.

"From the dirt-poor valleys of Peru, to the shanty towns of Rio, this journey revolutionised Macqueen's views on the drug, causing him to now believe that the 'dandruff of the Andes' should be sold in chemists everywhere."

Watch it to see why he came to that conclusion.

This Mortal Coil, this week's episode of DNA (ABC 8.30pm Thursdays) deals with Mary Claire King's epic search for the breast cancer gene. Ms King was certain that one of the most common forms of cancer — breast cancer — could be inherited, and became obsessed with trying to prove it.

The program follows her 20-year quest, which eventually ended — given the way science and medicine are handles under capitalism — with both the gene and the genetic test for breast cancer that she had dreamed of, falling into the hands of a private company.

In April 1975, in the closing days of the Vietnam War, the US and its allies took more than 3000 babies from children's homes and hospitals in Saigon and airlifted them to be adopted by couples in the US, Canada, Britain, Europe and Australia (281 came here).

This mass kidnapping — some of the children were not even orphans — was portrayed as a "humanitarian" operation. However, these children were not being rescued from war; their "rescuers" had not had a problem about inflicting war on them for years.

No, they were being rescued from the dreadful fate of growing up in a "carmunist country".

Some of their stories are told in Operation Babylift (SBS 8.30pm Thursday).

Silent Witness (ABC 8.30pm Fridays) writes out a major character this week, and I think it safe to say the series will never be the same again. However, given the way the writing had declined in recent episodes, the departure of a main character might just be what is needed to revive the writers' jaded imaginations.

The ABC is repeating the documentary Howard Hughes (ABC 8.30pm Friday) this week. Hughes was born rich and made lots more money by astute or aggressive deals. He was intimately connected to both the Mafia and the CIA, and used his wealth to pursue his own pleasures and whims when he wasn't making money.

He had no qualms about using his position as boss of RKO film studio to blackmail actresses into sleeping with him. Jane Greer was one who refused, and she was made to sit out the remainder of her contract, kept off the screen so that her career disappeared.

His Hughes Tool Company became a major contractor to the CIA, he did deals with the mafia in Las Vegas and bought off politicians and presidents.

Hughes was in fact the quintessential capitalist entrepreneur. Not that this program puts it like that!

The 30-year history of French nuclear testing at Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia between 1966 and 1996, was not a time that France can be overly proud of. It was marked by racism, murder and national arrogance on a grand scale.

The first French testing began in French-occupied Algeria, but moved in the early '60s to the French colonies in Polynesia when the Algerians kicked the French out. The Polynesians were seduced by the increased economic activity that accompanied the establishment of the innocuously-named Centre for Pacific Experiments (CEP).

Lagging behind the US and Britain, France embraced above-ground testing, refusing to sign the 1963 partial nuclear test treaty. The legacy for the Polynesians is skin problems, diabetes and cancers of every kind.

The story is told in Blowing Up Paradise (SBS 7.30pm Saturday), marking the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand as well as the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima.

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