THE BBC’s recent glut of fascinating documentaries on the Middle East has lifted the lid on the depravity of the Assad regime in Syria, and the iron grip of the autocracy in Saudi Arabia, among others. Yet, for all the cruelty on display, nothing in those programmes quite matches the strangeness and sadness of the story of Princess Latifa of Dubai. Her tale was told on Escape From Dubai: The mystery of the missing princess (BBC 2, Thursday of last week).
The centrepiece of the documentary is the last known video of Latifa, one of the 30 children of the ruler of Dubai, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Detailing the extraordinary story of her attempt to escape the oil-rich playground of the world’s elites, the princess alleges torture and kidnap at the hands of her father’s regime.
The shocking behaviour of UAE authorities is made all the more astonishing because the tactics are used by all sections of society, from migrant workers to members of the royal family. That the UK and other Western nations appear powerless to change the reprehensible repression, and are even craven partners of such immoral regimes, is hard to watch. All the same, it is a compelling story of one young woman’s attempt to escape the grip of a diabolical system. Can anyone truly escape the heart of darkness?
Back at home, with a different kind of system stacked against them, the characters in Performance Live: Love (BBC 2, Saturday) battle against the housing crisis. Based on true stories but fictionalised, the reality of homelessness and hopelessness for families in the run-up to Christmas was incredibly well done.
An interpretation of a play originally shown at the National Theatre, Love demonstrated a stunning knack for portraying a grim life in precarious housing, while retaining the dignity and humanity of the people it was based on.
Too often, the housing crisis is talked about in abstract terms. Yet behind every statistic is a human story, and the families portrayed here are in dire straits, because they are being failed by a crumbling system.
Love is highly recommended — and further adaptations from the stage in the Performance Live series will be eagerly awaited.
At the other end of the social divide was The World’s Most Expensive Toys (Channel 4, Monday last week). Crystal-covered rocking horses, dolls houses that cost almost as much as an actual house, and even hand-built cars all feature. The children of the super-rich seem to be in for a bumper Christmas — how the other half live.
Gillean Craig is away.