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TV review: The Trial of Alex Salmond, The Yorkshire Jobcentre, and This Farming Life

28 August 2020

BBC/Two Rivers Media

The Trial of Alex Salmond (BBC2, Monday of last week) reported on the trial of Scotland’s former First Minister, in March, at the conclusion of which he was cleared of 13 charges of sexual misconduct

The Trial of Alex Salmond (BBC2, Monday of last week) reported on the trial of Scotland’s former First Minister, in March, at the conclusion of which ...

THE Trial of Alex Salmond (BBC2, Monday of last week) was a master class in documentary reporting from Kirsty Wark, a seasoned political journalist. She reflected that the trial could represent a watershed moment for all, being, in essence, “about people’s lives and the way men and women treat each other”.

The High Court in Edinburgh cleared the former First Minister of 13 charges of sexual misconduct, in March, in proceedings that contained graphic details of his alleged behaviour, and which came to hinge not on what Salmond had done, but on whether what he had done was criminal.

Wark demonstrated a strong interest in the case and its wider implications for women. Her kindly manner and direct gaze incline people to open up to her more than they perhaps intend to; so interviews, in close-up, were frank and revealing.

It was beautifully filmed: much of the women’s testimony was voiced over bird’s-eye views of Edinburgh which gave it place and moment. Wark concluded: “Never in all my years as a journalist have I witnessed anything like this. In a way, the story is only just beginning.” That might be truer than she thought, if Alex Salmond carries out his threat to sue the BBC over the programme.

Television comedy has delighted in portraying those who work in jobcentres as heartless and humourless: who could forget the Scouser, Joey’s, weekly encounters in Bread? The Yorkshire Jobcentre (Channel 4, Monday of last week) laid some of those myths to rest, and the mature “work coaches” Bernie and Jan demonstrated a real desire to help.

“I haven’t encountered many people living the life of Riley on benefits. Most people want to do something with their life,” Jan observed. Here was the single mum Olivia, unemployed for the first time, but with an idea for a business. Here was Rose: cultured, educated, and with a confidence bordering on arrogance, but proving terrified of getting a job.

And then there was the doleful Gaz, a teenager to whom life had not been kind. To see him smile after the dogged efforts of his social-services manager created some hope for his future was heart-warming.

This Farming Life (Tuesday 8pm BBC2) was a tonic in its portrayal of Scottish farmers trying to turn a profit in hard times. From small hill-farms to those where lambing was on an industrial scale, the sheer physical effort involved was huge.

The landscapes were inspiring, and you could almost smell the fragrance of forked bales of hay. But it was the unsentimental intimacy of the relationships which was memorable. Sybil takes the clippers and roughly chops her husband George’s beard at the end of the winter, an affectionate episode that ends with a smacking kiss. And both own up to not wearing a watch, saying simply: “The darkness tells us when it’s time to come home.”

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