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TV review: Reggie Yates: Searching for Grenfell’s lost lives, Being Blacker, and Electric Dreams

29 March 2018

BBC/Expectation Entertainment/Des Willie

Youth Worker Michael Defoe and Reggie Yates (right) with memorial artwork of victim of the fire, Yasin El Wahabi

Youth Worker Michael Defoe and Reggie Yates (right) with memorial artwork of victim of the fire, Yasin El Wahabi

“I STILL see people screaming for help.” Reggie Yates: Searching for Grenfell’s lost lives (BBC2, Sunday), without in any way sensationalising the tragedy, engaged with the horror of the event by searching out the stories of a few of the victims.

It transformed distant names into immediate people: Tony’s family had lived in the area for generations, and were known and liked by all. On their phones, his wife and children have his final calls as he realises he is going to die.

Yates was particularly impressive in his international perspective, showing how so many of those killed had previous homes or family links with communities throughout the world: for instance, in Manila and Morocco. Yasin was a leader in the local youth club; always ready to help others, he had got out safely, but went back to try to get his family out.

Mohammad, with his brother, had escaped from the war in Syria, and was training for a professional life in the UK; we saw the pictures of his new flat which he so proudly shared on social media. The brother has somehow to live with the fact that he got out while Mohammad perished. Ligaya’s sister came from the Philippines to try to make sense of her loss; the visit deepened her incomprehension that such a thing could happen in the heart of the UK’s affluence and power.

This international focus adds a particular depth of shame: so many had come to London to escape war, danger, and grinding poverty; here, they were supposed to be safe.

Despite a lifetime’s respected profile in Brixton, the hero of Being Blacker will, sooner or later, respond to the pull of his native Jamaica. Shown more than a week ago (BBC2, 12 March), this remarkable portrait by Molly Dineen richly deserves a mention. Dineen has an extraordinary ability to turn up at just the right moment, her wide-eyed innocent questions somehow encouraging people to reveal the most extraordinary truths about themselves.

Blacker is a famous reggae artist and record-dealer. Dineen is surprised that his shop is being cleared out — it is because he is off to prison the next day to start a sentence for money-laundering. She is driven to Blacker’s mother’s funeral by his best friend, a reformed armed robber who shows off the scars from his last police gun-battle.

These lives veer between criminality and community leadership; yet Dineen celebrates the warmth and good humour, the resilience in the face of a lifetime of verbal and physical racial abuse. As he sends him down, Blacker’s judge brands him a failure; this film shows how superficial that label was. This might be a milieu light years from our own, but the film offers us new appreciation and respect.

To cheer us up, Channel 4 have been screening another series of Electric Dreams (Mondays): dramatisations of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi short stories. They are warnings of a terrible future, when technological heaven will be bought at the price of slavery, and contain apocalyptic visions of ruthless control of the many by the rich and powerful few.

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