The Guardian July 16, 2003


TV programs worth watching
Sun 20 July Sat 26 July

If writer-director Stephen Poliakoff had pitched to Talkback Productions 
and the BBC the idea of making a two-part TV drama about a young boy with 
behavioural and learning problems whose wealthy parents felt constrained to 
confine him to one of their estates, he would probably have been given the 
green light.

After all, Poliakoff is highly regarded for such individualistic and clever 
TV dramas as Shooting the Past and Perfect Strangers. And 
this one was surely right up his street: the approach and onset of WW1 from 
the point of view of an autistic child shut away from all but his immediate 
family.

But what made it a truly saleable plot was that it was a true story about a 
member of the British Royal Family (gasp, shock).

The youngest son of George V, Prince John displayed traits of character 
which would have embarrassed the Crown, so he and his nanny were hidden 
away in Sandringham. His story could have been a searing indictment of the 
callousness of the British ruling class, prepared to stop at nothing to 
protect its power and position.

Instead, it is another clever Poliakoff exercise in teasing, fragmented 
drama about the recent past and memory, not so much seen through a glass 
darkly as glimpsed through a half open door.

About any child in this unenviable position, the drama could have been 
moving, melancholy or even bleak. But the makers of The Lost Prince 
(ABC 8.30pm Sundays) can't forget that the central character is Royal.

As the publicity insists on putting it, it is "the heartbreaking story of 
the Prince that history forgot". For the very good reason that John is at 
most nothing more than the teensiest footnote to history.

The kind of people who weep over the fate of his relatives the Romanoffs 
will no doubt weep over the fate of wee Johnny, who never got to enjoy all 
the wealth and privileges to which he was born.

Miranda Richardson plays Queen Mary, Tom Hollander is George V, Michael 
Gambon plays Edward VII and Gina McKee is seen as Prince John's devoted 
nanny, Lalla.

International stars in the cast include Bibi Andersson as Queen Alexandra, 
Ingeborga Dapkunaite as Tsarina Alexandra and Ivan Marevich as Tsar 
Nicholas.

The last decade has seen an unprecedented rise in the number of witnesses 
recalling statues of Christ and the Madonna that have wept, bled and even 
spoken. A tribute, I suspect, to the power of the mass media to put ideas 
into the heads of the gullible, the ignorant and the hysterical in a time 
of angst and bewilderment.

These misbehaving statues are, you notice, all Catholic. Indelicate 
behaviours by statutes of Budda and Shiva and virtually unknown.

Under the present Pope in particular, the Catholic Church promotes a belief 
in miracles on a scale not seen since the Middle Ages. But while the 
Catholic Church hurries to embrace such tired old "miracles", the Baptists 
and other Protestant fundamentalists would see bleeding statues as evidence 
of demonic possession.

Rational church leaders are understandably embarrassed at having to 
adjudicate whether such "phenomena" are miracles or the work of the Devil.

Miracle Statues on Compass (ABC 10.00pm Sundays) makes a show 
of presenting evidence both "for" and "against" these miraculous statues. 
But really, they are in the same ludicrous category as alien abductions and 
visitations by wizards.

Do you remember the demonstration not so long ago in Belgium where over 
300,000 citizens demanded a shake-up of the Belgian Government over 
allegations of corruption and cover-up involving a paedophile ring?

It was the biggest rally in the country since WW2. Yet despite the 
community 's pleas and other efforts to expose corruption the Belgian 
justice system appears paralysed.

As long ago as 1996, Marc Dutroux was arrested by Belgian police, accused 
of having masterminded the kidnapping, sexual abuse and imprisonment of six 
girls aged eight to 19, four of whom were found dead. After six years in 
jail he is still to be tried.

Police who were making progress on the investigation were inexplicably 
taken off the case, the investigating magistrate was sacked, and a 
surviving victim and eyewitness discredited in the media.

The victim, Regina Louf, had named senior judges, one of the country's most 
powerful politicians  now dead  and a very influential banker as part 
of the ring. Louf also identified a prominent businessman, Jean Michel 
Nihoul, as the ringleader.

The BBC documentary Belgium's X Files screening on The Cutting Edge 
(SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) investigates the allegations that a cover-up has 
taken place to protect a paedophile network involving prominent 
businessmen, police and senior members of the Belgian Government.

This week sees episode two of the splendid and enthralling three-part 
account of the history of the science of blood, Red Gold, screening 
on The Big Picture (ABC 8.30pm Wednesdays).

Last week's episode delt with early theories of the role of blood, and the 
painfully slow progress towards successful blood transfusions, not helped 
by the dogmatic ignorance of religion which delayed the introduction of 
life-saving transfusions for a couple of hundred years.

Blood and War, Program Two in the series, looks at the role 
science's new knowledge about blood played in two world wars, including the 
deaths caused by a racist approach to blood transfusions.

Nazi imperialism was fuelled by a belief in the superiority of the "pure-
blooded" Aryan race, while American imperialism segregated "black" and 
"white" blood, a practice that undoubtedly cost lives.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: Story Of A Song, screening in the About Us 
slot (SBS 8.30pm Friday), tells the story of how the Zulu isicathamiya 
song Mbube, (pronounced EEM-boo-beh) was transcribed by American 
folk singer Pete Seeger (of the American folk group The Weavers) into 
Wimoweh, finally gaining international recognition as The Lion 
Sleeps Tonight.

Mbube was composed by a Zulu shepherd Solomon Linda during the 
1920s, and was first recorded at Gallo Records in 1939, after he moved to 
Johannesburg and started working as a record packer. It was a huge hit in 
what is now Swaziland, selling nearly 100,000 copies in the 1940s.

Today, nearly all international rights on the song are held by Americans  
principally by George David Weiss, the man who added the 16 English words 
to Wimoweh. Meanwhile, the daughters of Solomon Linda live in 
poverty in Zola, Soweto.

While exploring the moral and legal issues around the song, this 
documentary is a celebration of African music. It has been described as 
"going straight to the heart of neo-colonial cultural politics today".

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