Remote Control: Documentary Reviews
Brian Donaldson uncovers some fine documentaries about daredevils, dancers and daggers
There’s a special poignancy about Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel (BBC2, Sun 23 Dec, 9pm) now that we know the subject of the show has since died. The Top Gear presenter may have cheated death last year but his jig with mortality is a mere trifling compared to the two fingers Evel Knievel continually stuck up to the fates during his 70s heyday, doing wheelies over buses and being rocketed across canyons. When Hammond finally comes face to face with Evel, his childhood hero is now ensnared by an oxygen mask just two days after suffering a stroke. With Hammond being led down a few blind alleys in trying to hear the old daredevil’s memories, he at least has two things on his side: a light humour and not being Clarkson.
To some, Andrea Bocelli: The Story Behind the Voice (BBC2, Tue 25 Dec, 6.50pm) may not be Pavarotti, but the blind Tuscan has a tough life story to match any of the great tenors. With the aid of some regrettable Eurotrash-like regional translations, we hear how he went from a 12-year-old whose life unravelled due to his fading sight to singing at Ground Zero before thousands of weeping Americans. With the three-part Dance Britannia (BBC4, Thu 27 Dec, 9pm) series, the nation’s dancefloor tastes are dissected entertainingly, but perhaps a more vivid exposé of the problems in putting on a choreographic work are laid out in Strictly Bolshoi (Channel 4, Tue 25 Dec, 2.45pm). Christopher Wheeldon is the young turk of the dance world, a Somerset lad who has become big in New York and is seen skipping into the winter wonderland of Russia to take on a commission for Bolshoi Ballet. Yet, just weeks before the show must go on, he has ditched the original plan to do Hamlet and edged out one mewling diva. When the Bolshoi boss demands to know what this commissioned ballet will actually be called, Wheeldon looks around for inspiration. And they call this choreographed?
Such creative anarchy is put into stark perspective when Tank Man (More4, Thu 13 Dec, 11pm) recalls the mayhem which struck Tiananmen Square back in 1989. With revolutionary vigour beginning to rumble across the communist world, the students and low-paid workers of China took to the streets to demand a loosening of the state’s rigid control. This led to the army gunning down protestors with the carnage being beamed into homes across the globe. But when one anonymous citizen stood before the rolling tanks, photographers caught an iconic moment of resistance. As with Channel 4’s Falling Man which attempted to reveal the identity of one Twin Towers jumper, the search begins to discover who Tank Man was.
Lockdown (Five, Wed 2 Jan, 10.45pm) is a programme you’ll desperately want to hate. Forcing you to peer into a US super-maximum security prison, you swiftly get caught up in soap style lives in which petty disagreements are solved not with a nice cup of tea but with a shank in the gut. Part harsh reality show, part simulated thriller, the ‘drama’ revolves around one nasty con who may be planning to manipulate a 5ft 2in female guard. Appallingly addictive stuff. A crime story of a very different kind is The Kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart (Channel 4, Thu 3 Jan, 10pm) with this update featuring interviews with the family and the girl herself who was taken from her bed in the middle of the night by a social outcast disguised as a religious zealot and held for nine long months. Smart had never spoken on air directly about her ordeal, even when asked this question by a chat show host: ‘A lot of people have seen shots of you wearing a burqa: how did you see out of that thing?’ Still, what the McCanns wouldn’t give to be asked dumb questions after the release of their daughter.