'And you think, Well, we've had an excellent life . . .'

Sat, Feb 4, 2012, 00:00

TV REVIEW:TURNING AROUND AN ocean liner is a famously slow business, but turning around a documentary about one, well, that’s no bother – to Channel 4, at least, which made the very human and balanced documentary Terror at Sea: The Sinking of the Concordia(Tuesday).

As investigations haven’t been completed, a documentary might seem premature, but this worked, because, as well as experts and CGI, it had vivid eyewitness reports and, crucially, camera-phone footage from inside the ship on the night. Extraordinary how some people’s response, when caught in a potentially life-threatening situation, is to whip out a mobile phone and get filming. So we saw jerky shots of passengers gingerly making their way along tilted corridors on waterlogged carpets, as well as the chaos of trying to get on the lifeboats, amid bizarre reassurances from a member of staff that “everything is fine: go back to your cabins”.

And, of course, Titanicwas never far from anyone’s lips. There were faint echoes of the earlier tragedy, not least in the story of Viv and Derek, a retired couple who arrived on deck and found the lifeboats gone. “And you think, Well, we’ve had an excellent life . . .”

Seventeen people died and 15 are unaccounted for. “There are already corpses,” the coastguard told the captain, who was already in a lifeboat. “How many?” he asked. “That’s your job to tell me,” replied the exasperated coastguard, who ordered the captain, several times, to go back on board. He didn’t.

Once on dry land he took a cab to the nearest hotel. The coastguard had been alerted not by the captain but by the police, who had been contacted by terrified passengers.

The most compelling shot was an aerial image of hundreds of people, showing up as tiny, glowing white objects on the night camera, climbing from a great height down a rope ladder to safety – “and nobody fell off”, said survivor Kirsty. And that’s what you had to think, watching the chaos: it’s extraordinary there wasn’t more loss of life.

LELIA DOOLAN’Saward-winning Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey(TG4, Monday) was nine years in the making. The result was an absorbing – if uncritical – film that deftly educated and entertained thanks to Doolan’s intimate style and to the sparky, warm series of interviews with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the subject of the biodoc. There is, I suspect, a whole generation who would be astonished to know that in the late 1960s there was a 20-year-old student, a passionate radical socialist republican – “Fidel Castro in a miniskirt”, as she was dubbed – who became the youngest female MP and was fearless in her campaigning for social justice in the North, particularly for the rights of Catholics to housing and employment.

Of the early civil-rights marches she went on as a curious student, she said, “Catholic, student, belligerent: it meant you got kicked. What outraged me was that that was normal.”

A gifted orator, or speechifier, as she calls it, she was imprisoned in 1969 for incitement to riot during the Battle of the Bogside. As clips from the period show – and there were many: the camera couldn’t resist the firebrand who looked like a gap-toothed schoolgirl – she was as mouthy as she was tough, famously crossing the floor in the House of Commons to punch Reginald Maudling, the home secretary, for saying the British army shot in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.

Of that time, she said, “The person I am bears no resemblance to the imaginary one . . . That image has nothing to do with me.”

She survived a loyalist assassination attempt in 1981; she calmly told of being shot eight times and named her colleagues who were murdered as part of the same campaign.

The film spent most of its time in the 1960s and 1970s, when she was prominent, and less time on her current activities – she works on a community project in Co Tyrone – and on her views of the North now. She dismissed the peace process as about “managing sectarianism” and, looking around a still divided North, said what was needed was a “timed and targeted approach to desegregation”.

A GOOD HEIST DRAMAis hard to resist, and the new four-parter Inside Men(BBC1, Thursday) is edge-of-seat stuff. Steven Mackintosh is John, manager of a cash counting house, with an airless office, a bad suit and an occasional stammer – the kind of guy you forget three minutes after he leaves a room. He, it turns out, at the end of this week’s first episode, is not what he seems: he’s the ultimate inside man, and recruits two employees he has caught pilfering to help him with his master plan. Depot security guard Chris (Ashley Walters) is a lonely sort with an alcoholic mother, and forklift driver Marcus (Warren Brown) is a bit of a dim joker who is constantly dreaming up ideas to keep his glamorous girlfriend happy. The scene-setting – particularly the security in the plant and the seeming impossibility of actually stealing the £200 million in the vault – was really well done.

Unusually, there was nothing macho about this heist; not from this trio, anyway. The professional thieves they take on to help them are different, and the robbery scenes were brilliantly terrifying. It’s more about what drives men to cross the line, and to act in a way that surprises even themselves. The heist has happened, we know there are inside men, but the first episode cleverly lays down enough teasers – if Chris was in on the plot, why was he shot in the leg during the raid? – to make next week’s episode a must-see.

TALK ABOUT A MARKETABLEtelevision format along the lines of the ever-popular Who Do You Think You Are?The idea behind Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa?(TG4, Thursday) is that Manchán Magan uses whatever source is needed to discover the history of a house.

This week’s subject was the actor Eamon Morrissey’s home in Co Wicklow, which turned out to have a fascinating military history, but it was the spooky side to the story that intrigued. When he bought it, 40 years ago, strange things started happening. Magan, who has a very easy way about him, consulted a fairy expert who discussed the rath, or fairy fort, in the grounds of the property and the long-recorded fairy activity in the area. It was no surprise to Morrissey, a charming host. “There are fairies, you know. I don’t believe in them, but they exist.”

Get stuck into . . .

Liz Bonnin (pictured) – science boffin, brilliant communicator and gorgeous: what better role model for girls? – presents Super Smart Animals(BBC2, Thursday, 8pm)