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".