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TV review: Children of 9/11: Our story, The Crimson Rivers, and When Ruby Wax Met. . .

27 August 2021

Channel 4

Ronald Milam, whose father died in the Pentagon on 9/11, is interviewed in Children Of 9/11: Our story (Channel 4, Monday of last week)

Ronald Milam, whose father died in the Pentagon on 9/11, is interviewed in Children Of 9/11: Our story (Channel 4, Monday of last week)

THE attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 is not an event normally tinged with optimism, but, by giving voice to six children unborn when their fathers died on that day, Children Of 9/11: Our story (Channel 4, Monday of last week) flipped the story from the past to the future.

Liz Mermin’s documentary moved from the attack to the lives of its six subjects, using photographs, home movies, and archive, to take us from first birthdays to college. Occasional subtitles and news footage of significant 9/11 anniversaries anchored the film’s chronology, but otherwise participants spoke for themselves.

And what a life-affirming bunch they were, from the track-and-field star Ronald to the punk poet Megan, the scholarship-winning criminal-justice student Claudia, and the cheerleading computer expert Nick. The oldest participant, Fares, was three and living in Yemen when his hotel-manager father, Abu, perished. In a Yemeni village, 9/11 anniversaries went unremarked, and it was not until high school and civil war started that his family came to the United States.

Now settled in Michigan, Fares switched between Arabic and English, puzzled by Americans’ lack of neighbourliness and overreaction to Covid, in comparison with civil-war bombardment. But his adopted country’s freedom of expression was a bright spot: “When I came to America, that’s when I started to love my camera.”

“Life can turn on a dime” was a strand running through Children of 9/11, as we learned of fathers who were in the Twin Towers only once, as contractors on that fateful day or covering for a colleague, or Nick’s mother, Ursula, who was late for work in the North Tower because of morning sickness. The young people’s incorporation of this precariousness with their boundless zest for life was a joy to witness.

Series two of The Crimson Rivers (More 4, Friday), a French crime series featuring Commander Pierre Niémans (Olivier Marchal) and his protégé Lt Camille Delaunay (Erika Sainte), kicked off with a gripping 90 minutes about murder and stolen relics in Reims. The drama played several cuts above Da Vinci Code schlock, and provincial France was portrayed with affection and humour. With several plot twists to keep you pondering, it makes a satisfying evening.

Seeing Wax’s own insecurities laid bare in When Ruby Wax Met . . . (BBC2, Sunday) was insightful. From wanting Donald Trump to like her, and developing a “helium-balloon” voice when he refused to bite, to being awestruck by Carrie Fisher, and not wanting to be seen in a swimming costume next to Goldie Hawn, the influence that Wax’s interviewees held over her presenting was staggering. Despite these struggles, however, Wax is still the pioneer of the comedy-documentary interview, the semi-scripted revelatory set-ups that are now a staple of prime-time television.

Gillean Craig is away.

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