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TV review: Eurovision Song Contest: The final, Fergal Keane: Living with PTSD, and Life After Life

20 May 2022


Sam Ryder performs for the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest: The final (BBC1, Saturday)

Sam Ryder performs for the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest: The final (BBC1, Saturday)

LAST week’s TV achieved a moment of perfection in, of all places, the Eurovision Song Contest: The final (BBC1, Saturday) — not, I hasten to add, as regards the various styles of music performed, which remain as far as ever from my personal taste, nor in the singers’ lack of understatement and self-effacing modesty, nor their songs’ overwhelming visual embellishments, whose lighting alone would have illuminated many a small impoverished country.

The twofold perfection lay in the final result: (a) the UK was placed second; (b) the overall winner was Ukraine. Our lad, Sam Ryder, performed the miracle of bringing back not merely into contention, but to the very top of the league, the UK’s offering, which, despite our having pretty much invented pop music, has for decades languished at the bottom of the heap, even unto scoring nul points.

In fact, in the first round of voting, by the competing countries’ official judges, Mr Ryder was declared overall winner. Only when the popular vote was added did Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra soar ahead. A neat paradox was in play. The UK’s dismal recent results have not been attributed to particularly rotten songs, but, rather, to political and social attitudes: in Europe, we are, unsurprisingly, unpopular, and this is a good way to vent such sentiments.

Mr Ryder’s performance was exceptional enough to overcome this longstanding obloquy, but was in turn overwhelmed by eagerness to express in every way possible support for Ukraine — who offered an admirably memorable (if bizarre) number. So, we had another result based not on objective musical criticism, but on political and emotional feeling. In 2022, nothing could be better: to come second to Ukraine was the most desirable placing possible.

Ukraine was a theatre of conflict too far in Fergal Keane: Living with PTSD (BBC2, Monday of last week). Mr Keane has spent 30 years as one of the most fearless war reporters, bringing to our screens the horrific reality of the Belfast troubles, Rwandan genocide, Syria, and Iraq. He now needs to confront what demons he has internalised, spurred on by idealism and the adrenalin of conflict.

We are involved here: it’s essential that we should be told the truth and shown the appalling evidence of what humans can visit on one another — but the messengers pay a terrible price on our behalf. Mr Keane not only revealed his own therapeutic journey, but gave a meditation on human evil. He cannot keep away: now, with deeper self-awareness, he has returned and is back in Lviv.

BBC2 celebrated the season of resurrection with Life After Life (Tuesdays from 19 April), in whose splendidly realised costume drama Ursula keeps dying and then living again, every life subtly or radically different. Alas, the realisation that none of her deaths would be decisive rather blunted my concern and engagement.

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