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TV review: Syria — The World's war

11 May 2018

BBC/Richard Cookson

Lyse Doucet

Lyse Doucet

SYRIA: The world’s war (BBC2, Thursday and Friday of last week) was a hopeless programme. Not in the slangy sense of the term, meaning not any good, but in its original meaning of being without hope. This was sombre TV, chronicling a seven-year process of destruction: a nation tearing itself to pieces with the support and active participation of allies, enemies, and neighbours.

Lyse Doucet has reported on the story from the beginning, and it is courageous of the BBC to give her the time and resources to make this extended overview, always remembering that it is still by no means resolved but, rather, a conflict that is surely stoking the fires for decades of future bitterness.

The narrative was carried forward by the voices of participants, from leading politicians and generals to ordinary citizens. As a mirror to the depths of human violence, hatred, and mendacity, it could hardly be improved on: sequence after sequence of sickening film was followed with flat denials by those responsible that what we had just seen ever took place.

Perhaps the most telling contributions were from those caught up in the violence: the young woman who went on a demonstration and was then radicalised by her experience of police brutality; the house­wife who became a key proponent of President Assad’s regime; the businessman who became commander of a pro-government militia.

I had expected to hear more about reli­gion, about the inter-Islamic factions that fuel the flames of conflict, of ancient Christian and other communities driven from their homes, but it seems that, for Doucet, this aspect (which we assume is more important than anything else) is little more than window-dressing to sweeten humankind’s limitless potential to hate and destroy its neighbour.

Conflict on far more domestic a scale is the driving force behind The Split (BBC1, Tuesdays). We have seen two episodes so far, and the convoluted plotlines, as the private and professional lives of high-end divorce lawyers intertwine, are becoming so contrived as to undercut the genuine quality of the work as a whole.

The appropriate detachment required to act for your client is, I imagine, compromised when — as is the situation here — you are having an affair with, or were yourself formerly married to, the solicitor acting for the other party. And, if not a sexual, then the other kind of relation: the opposite lawyer is your mother or your sister.

It is brilliantly acted by a stunning cast, highly watchable, and very smart. But, just as I am about to dismiss the production as too clever for its own good, I am disarmed by an act of genuine goodness, of mercy or emotion, that anchors the drama impressively in the battleground between law and morality, justice and feeling.

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