Remote Control - TV round-up
Brian Donaldson discovers a bunch of documentaries where everyone seems just one step away from disaster.
The folk at Channel 4 have a particular, and peculiar, idea of what sums up the experience of pregnancy: it’s the lilting scouse poetry of Roger McGough and Brian Patten aided by some bubbly, ambient synth. Some mums might have cause to argue that Cradle of Filth would be a more appropriate accompaniment. Miracles in the Womb (Channel 4, Thu 15 Feb, 9pm - 3 stars) shows off some of the snazzy 4D scan technology the channel seems to have at its disposal right now and for 15 minutes it’s truly haunting. But after more than an hour’s staring at squashed-up, embryonic cabbage patch twins, you wish they’d just get the hell out of there. And eventually they do, in close-up, ultra-graphic, bloody-birth mode.
There’s a fair amount of the icky medical stuff going on during Child in a Million (Five, Wed 21 Feb, 8pm - 4 stars) in which two very young kids are brought through the doors at Great Ormond Street and given life-saving surgery. Tahlia (pictured) is a toddler with severe breathing problems due to a windpipe which is discovered to be so narrow that she should really not have had a chance of survival. Molly is four and suffering a rare kidney cancer which she seems to have beaten as the film ends with Molly ready for that precious first day at school, Andrew Lincoln’s austere voiceover insisting that the future is looking bright. The heartcrushing tragedy is that Molly’s parents wanted this film to be shown as an epitaph to their daughter who died at the end of last year when the cancer returned. Quite what the future holds for The Boys of Ballikinrain (BBC2, Mon 19 Feb, 9pm - 3 stars), a raw collection of Scottish lads holed up in a stately house for the disadvantaged, is uncertain. Though the words of that arch philosopher Anthony Soprano may come in useful here: ‘there’s only two endings for a guy like me: dead or in the can.’
The end of the world as we know it may well rest on the next step America takes in its stand-off with the states who make up the so-called Axis of Evil. The evocative Once Upon a Time in Iran (Channel 4, Thu 22 Feb, 9pm - 4 stars) casts a bleak warning: mess with those in Tehran and beyond who are following a path of redemption first taken by the 7th century martyr Imam Hussain and face a terrible wrath. By comparison, Rageh Inside Iran (BBC4, Thu 15 Feb, 9pm - 3 stars) reports on the threats to liberty within the country while catching up with some old dissident pals. It’s hard to criticise the Scud Stud’s passion for his subject but the rather narrow focus (and lack of work for the BBC’s subtitles department) lets it down.
When you want a documentary to have the greatest of impacts with the most subtle of techniques, you call on the central character of A Brief History of Errol Morris (More4, Mon 19 Feb, 10.45pm - 4 stars). Not a man to be especially comfortable in front of the camera, Morris lays himself bare before Kevin Macdonald’s lens to discuss the artistry and obsessions (murder, mainly) which has put him at the pinnacle of his chosen subject. Made in 1999 just around the release of Mr Death, about a Holocaust denier who built humane execution devices in America, it’s a fitting tribute to a man who could make films on miscarriages of justice, Stephen Hawking’s theories and pet cemetery owners, and elevate them into high art.