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TV review: Ukraine: Voices from the frontline, Unreported World: The anti-vax preachers, and Then Barbara Met Alan

01 April 2022


Neighbours huddle together in a basement for safety Ukraine: Voices from the frontline (ITV, Sunday 20 March), which featured mobile-phone footage

Neighbours huddle together in a basement for safety Ukraine: Voices from the frontline (ITV, Sunday 20 March), which featured mobile-phone footage

UKRAINE: Voices from the frontline (ITV, Sunday 20 March) was the most powerful and affecting coverage of the war so far. Not a professional report, mediated by a journalist for news bulletins (immensely moving though many of those have been), but a stitching together of ordinary people’s mobile-phone footage of what they are living through and dying for.

First, we saw footage of life immediately before the invasion: scenes of flourishing, of ordinary family life just like yours or mine, of pride in the beauty of their country and cities, the utter impossibility that this richness could be shattered in a few hours. Then it was, absolutely.

And we saw how their lives transformed. Enhanced solidarity, as neighbours, huddled together in a basement for safety, shared what little food they had in a common meal (a scene to be remembered when we celebrate our Maundy Thursday eucharist). A single mother building a bomb shelter to try to save her child. The exact moment a missile destroys your block of flats. Scenes of extraordinary resilience, determination, and faith, and of care for the elderly and sick. Living with death all around you — and, when the enemy bombs his way into your city, remarkable demonstrations of courageous defiance.

Not only do the people of Ukraine excite our utmost admiration: they offer us a mirror, enabling us to assess how far we would measure up to them, by how much our basic humanity would, in comparison, stand or fall. How unfortunate that ITV broadcast this so late on a Sunday evening: it should be seen by everyone.

In the final clip, a woman played, beautifully, her grand piano; all around, her flat was utterly wrecked, destroyed. Here was ultimate hope: faith that, eventually, order and beauty would survive and overcome.

From best to worst use of social media. Unreported World: The anti-vax preachers (Channel 4, Friday) depicted the struggle to bring Covid vaccinations to South Sudan, devastated by war and disastrous rainfalls, which had flooded all communications. We saw two faces of Christianity: a trainee priest had, with his people, constructed the most beautiful church from mud and tree trunks, utterly simple and indigenous; he encouraged all to be vaccinated. Another pastor, urgent, charismatic, in sharp suit and tie, denounced vaccination as the work of the devil, a government plot to insert microchips: Revelation’s mark of the beast.

He insisted that his preaching was based entirely on the Bible. When pressed, he admitted that this lethal drivel reaches him via his mobile phone.

Then Barbara Met Alan (BBC2, 21 March) deserves far more space than I have left. It’s a riotous docu-drama about 1990s punk disability-rights campaigners. The awkward squad, fighting with anger, wit, verve, and style, rejecting sympathy and compassion, are matched brilliantly by the production — with the most intimate, tenderest sex scene you’ll witness.

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