SURELY we can all tell when someone is telling the truth? One of the few indicators that my advancing years bring increasing wisdom is the realisation that, actually, I often can’t — sometimes in really serious matters. The Shamima Begum Story (BBC2, Tuesday of last week, and iPlayer) challenged our trust. How truthful is this young woman, one of the three schoolgirls who left home in Bethnal Green in 2015 to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate (Radio, 10 February)?
The documentary fleshed out her own account with a conflicting range of voices and opinions, ranging from those who consider that, by throwing in her lot with the vile regime, she shares responsibility for its outrages, to those who see her as an abused and trafficked child. Having spent 14 years serving a neighbouring community, and knowing something of its pressures, I am essentially sympathetic to her; radical religious conviction, wilfully blind to the morality of its charismatic leadership, is a recognised and understandable youthful response to racism and dead-end life expectations — exploited, to our shame, by Christian as well as Muslim extremists.
The paralysis that fear of torture and death instil in all but the most heroic surely explains why she didn’t try to escape; the power of brainwashing to obliterate common-sense morality is constantly underestimated by people who live comfortable and self-determined lives. Are not the TV interviews when she was discovered, traumatised, two days after giving birth, culpable abuse by our self-proclaimed liberal media? Was not the stripping her of UK citizenship, leaving her in stateless limbo, an act of juvenile spite to placate public outrage rather than a measured political and legal response? Should she face justice in our courts to determine her innocence or guilt? But perhaps I am a gullible fool, and she is a consummate liar, playing a long game to regain entry to Britain to commit terrorist offences.
The new docudrama The Gold (BBC1, Sunday, and iPlayer) allows us the relief of distance: we can watch it from afar in the reasonable expectation that its scenario of gangsters, heroic cops, and bent lawyers is unlikely to engulf and threaten our lives.
The 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery, the largest in history, had farcical elements: the thieves had no idea that the warehouse contained more than two tons of gold bullion — its bulk so large that it wouldn’t fit in the vault. Having pinched it, they faced the extraordinary problem how to get rid of it and realise its value. The real-life resolution is not so funny: murders are still being added to the tally of its long shadow. But this is a marvellously stylish and stylised production.
Dinosaur with Stephen Fry (Channel 5, Sunday) will surely be a hatchet job on the General Synod? No — it’s a curious blend of CGI reconstructions, cutting-edge science, and Fry’s lugubrious comments on the extinct reptiles.