DOCUMENTARY as confessional formed a crucial element of the immensely powerful Our Falklands War: A frontline story (BBC2, Sunday). Forty years after that remarkable feat of arms by UK forces, ten of the combatants told their story, and Guy King’s gentle questioning and prompting enabled them to reveal experiences and emotions that they admitted having never told anyone else about — or even acknowledged to themselves.
Whatever the concept of its original planning, the broadcast takes on, for us, a crucial added depth of significance; for, today, these are events are not “recollected in tranquillity”, but against a shocking lens and perspective of war in Europe. It offers the most powerful antidote to superficial warmongering. I cannot remember any programme conveying so graphically what, for the combatants, fighting — much of it trench to trench, hand to hand — is actually like.
What it is like to bayonet an enemy; and then what it is like to cradle him, offering comfort as his life ebbs away. What it is like to go to war eagerly, fired up with enthusiasm and the immortality of youth; and how suddenly that is transformed by the reality of your comrades’ maiming and death. And how bloodlust undercuts all judgement; how the enemy who must be killed before he kills you turns into — once he has surrendered — a real person, someone who deserves your pity and aid.
Each spoke of how the experience had changed him, both at the time, being forced to grow up in a few short terrible weeks, and through all the years that have followed; and, for most, it is a still-present reality, unbearable memories and images ready to ambush day by day, and especially at night. They had been challenged at every level, being confronted with the likelihood of imminent death, discovering whether their courage and skill would hold or break. Would they lead or obey as they had been trained? Would their values and ethos survive, or be forced radically to change? One at least found a deeper faith; one at least lit a candle in church.
I doubt that Everything I Know about Love (BBC1, Tuesdays from 8 June) presents exactly the lifestyle for which these soldiers were prepared to die. It’s 2012, and four university girlfriends start life in London, finding an improbably huge and pristine flat, and able to afford hedonistic nights out — surprisingly, when only two of them have jobs.
Anything that treats serious drug-taking as an everyday matter immediately gets my thumbs-down; but a partial redemption beckons through the sheer energy and fun of their invented dance routines — and as the gorgeous heroine Maggie gradually realises that her once dowdy friend Birdy is developing a life of her own other than a pale imitation of hers, and may just possibly find love and security before she does.