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TV Review: Stacey Dooley: Ready for war?, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? and Colin from Accounts

21 April 2023

BBC/True Vision East/Blanca Munoz

Stacey Dooley with a Ukrainian recruit, Artem, in Stacey Dooley: Ready for war? (BBC3, Wednesday of last week)

Stacey Dooley with a Ukrainian recruit, Artem, in Stacey Dooley: Ready for war? (BBC3, Wednesday of last week)

IT MADE very uncomfortable viewing. In Stacey Dooley: Ready for war? (BBC3, Wednesday of last week), a 200-strong cohort of Ukrainian army recruits received intensive combat training in the UK, completing in five weeks a peacetime six-month programme.

The most obvious discomfort was the atrocious weather: our officers kindly explained that the bitter cold and driving rain that they must face from the outset is deliberate, to toughen them up for what they must endure in the field. Abrupt shock is a key factor: when dealing with battlefield injuries, the troops were deliberately not warned in advance that the “casualties” were, in fact, amputees; so, amid all the fake blood, arms and legs were indeed missing.

The Ukrainians were ordinary people from all walks of life, including professions that most would consider “soft”: a florist, a jeweller, a masseur. Ms Dooley is excellent: sympathetic, empathetic, gently drawing out the back stories of these men whose lives have changed so shockingly. They showed her pictures of the wives, girlfriends, and children at left at home. They spoke of their motivation for joining up: for one, it was seeing children’s bodies at the railway station, dismembered by Russian missiles.

However reluctantly accepted, their duty and patriotism sounded entirely genuine: “Who can protect the women and children of Ukraine if not us? Who?” They discussed the ultimate hardening: could they kill another human being? And, of course, confronted the likelihood of their own battlefield deaths. The admirable Ukrainian interpreter explained how essential it was to keep emotional distance, as otherwise the constant loss would overwhelm them — and then wept uncontrollably. The soldiers passed out with tangible new determination, confidence, leadership skills, and comradeship. But this left the deepest discomfort of all: this might be the best training available — but why must such splendid young people, anywhere, learn to kill and be killed?

A vicar’s son, Robert Jones — ex-Navy, organist, motor mechanic, and golf caddy — added “amateur detective” to his CV when he discovered a dying man at the foot of a cliff. Agatha Christie’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (ITV1, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of last week), written and directed by the polymath Hugh Laurie, was the most stylish and effective Agatha Christie adaptation I can recall. The period detail was in the background, and the characterisations were excellent. The plot itself, alas! is over-tortuous.

Colin from Accounts (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) is a delicious — if unashamedly vulgar — Australian sitcom written by and starring the husband and wife Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall. As in all really good farce, each ludicrous situation, dialogue, and over-the-top character starts to a small degree beyond the reasonably everyday, and then spirals uncontrollably out of sight.

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