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TV review: Unsaid Stories, Cuba: Castro vs the world, and Mandy

21 August 2020

ITV

Amanda Abbington (left) as Lyndsey, and Nicôle Lecky as her daughter, Jordan, in Unsaid Stories: Lavender, on ITV, Thursday of last week

Amanda Abbington (left) as Lyndsey, and Nicôle Lecky as her daughter, Jordan, in Unsaid Stories: Lavender, on ITV, Thursday of last week

LAST week, ITV contributed significantly to understanding just how much Black Lives Matter with Unsaid Stories (Monday to Thursday of last week): four 15-minute dramas, all two-handers, by black authors, produced under lockdown restrictions. In each, the unsaid story was blazingly articulated: different aspects of the burden of being black in today’s Britain.

Even black social, cultural, and financial success — as in I Don’t Want To Talk About This (Tuesday), in which a leading art critic talked about the continuing pressure of sensing her colleagues’ self-congratulation because their circle included someone of her background, or unspoken praise that she, with her background, had done so well for herself — was shown to be a barbed victory.

In Generational (Monday), a father slowly revealed to his daughter the reason that he forbade her to go on an anti-racist demonstration: in his youth, his best friend had been killed in such a protest, and the police had refused to intervene. In Look At Me (Wednesday), we felt the bitterness as a successful black couple’s first date was ruined by unwarranted stop-and-search; and how that triggered the emotion of every previous occasion of being singled out, and of impotence in the face of insult, prejudice, and brutality that their white friends never noticed.

Most complex, in Lavender (Thursday), was a row between a white mother and mixed-race daughter over what kind of life the daughter’s new baby — much blacker than her — would face, and whether the kind, liberal white mother could begin to understand how difficult that life would be. The author, who played the daughter, gave her frequently unsympathetic lines. Liberal white viewers, recollecting in tranquillity their outrage at this unfairness, could confront their own complacency.

Cuba: Castro vs the world (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) was magnificent, but with a hollow centre. It was a remarkable documentary, over two weeks, marshalling contributions from an extraordinary range of surviving key players — Cuban politicians, spies, Russian diplomats, and American politicians — and adding personal insight to the dramatic story of how this tiny island became a key player in world politics, a thorn in the flesh of the United States, and an exporter of armed revolutionary struggle.

The determination to overthrow capitalist corruption and exploitation of the masses cannot be doubted; but what I missed was analysis of what life was actually like in Castro’s Cuba: i.e., what was the effect of the revolution they were exporting? Cuba developed wonderful education and health care, but was that, despite the crippling US trade embargo, sustained by a new economic model, or bankrolled by huge Soviet payments?

Diane Morgan’s Mandy (BBC2, Thursday of last week) portrays gormless incompetence. Teetering on the uncomfortable edge of condescension to, and contempt for, workshy fecklessness, it is redeemed by sequences so sublimely lunatic as to drown criticism in irresistible hilarity.

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