TV & Audio
Sound and screen reviews
Another cohort of modestly famous faces bands together against the torments of the jungle; a confined drama adds little to the lethal defences of a murder-accused homeowner; and a solemn documentary on domestic abuse and a culture of silence hopes to alarm people into positive action
Standing by the edge of a cliff, 100 metres above a verdant rainforest, one of the newest contestants of I’ma Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (Virgin Media One, Sunday, 9pm) calmly assesses the risk. “They won’t let us die,” soap star Sair Khan tells sci-fi star John Barrowman, secure in the safety net of modest fame.
That’s the assumption most viewers of this deathless franchise will make too, even if the long-standing promise of the programme, 18 series in, is that horrifying insects might eat the celebrities. Or that celebrities will be forced to eat horrifying insects. Or, far more likely, that horrifying celebrities will eat each other.
Khan may laugh, over introductions, that “I’m most afraid of you guys!” But to see another soap star, Rita Simons, urgently checking with Barrowman, “You know who I am, don’t you?”, is to see that she has good cause.
In the meantime, one of the show’s most recognisable celebrities has disappeared. Earlier this year, Ant McPartlin resolved to concentrate on his recovery from addiction and forgo presenting. That leaves Dec Donnelly, his professional life partner, feeling exposed. “I’ve never done it with a girl before,” Donnelly says to new co-host Holly Willoughby, bringing an eruption of off-camera laughter, as all of Dec’s words must.
For all the biting reptiles, physical exertions and making meals from measly rations, the most arduous task on I’m a Celebrity is to assure Dec that he is hilarious. Willoughby, for her part, is not allowed to try.
The structure of the show, thus far, seems designed to sow division, routinely casting rival teams as “winners” and “losers” as they are assembled through successive tasks. The effect, however, is to galvanise co-operation within both teams, albeit with a huge self-selected gender imbalance. In tasks, they are supportive, tactful and encouraging. Outside tasks, they are the same, swimming to the assistance of the rival team at one demoralising point, or later rallying around Anne Hegerty, the quiz show star, who has Asperger’s, when she becomes distressed by her new environment.
That, to judge from Twitter, was not the first reaction of the audience, who had gathered to mock unhappy and hungry celebs, to ruthlessly appraise Willoughby’s performance, or generally cheer for the abyss. One young contestant, Emily Atack, who – like McVey, or Malique Thompson-Dwyer – had grown up watching the show, naively imagined this venture as a rite of passage: “If I survive something like this,” she tells us, “I can survive going into adulthood.”
What does it say about the maturity of her watchers, then, that the self-professed ’fraidy cat was the first person the public selected to be thrown into a vipers’ nest? “I can’t watch this!” yelped Willoughby at the prospect. That seems like sound advice.
When two burglars broke into the home of Tony Martin, late on August 20th, 1999, Martin was prepared. “That’s one of the oddities with me,” he told police the next day of his habit of sleeping fully dressed with his boots on, as though it was not in the least bit odd. Nor, for that matter, that he kept a shotgun under his bed.
Within a few moments, he had killed one intruder, a 16-year-old boy, and wounded the other (both of whom, this confined dramatisation does not elaborate, were Irish Travellers). The case threw Britain into an uproar. Writer and director David Nath shrewdly begins The Interrogation of Tony Martin (Channel 4, Sunday, 9pm), with a flitter of images from the contemporary media coverage, suggesting a riven nation. But the drama quickly shrinks into Martin’s police interviews, filmed as a verbatim re-enactment.
“I’ve had a horrendous experience,” he says, in Steve Pemberton’s guarded performance, as flat and freighted as a Harold Pinter play. “It’s an absolute nightmare.”
Indeed, Martin’s life has been one of chronic isolation, perceived threat and constant grievance. “There is nobody to help you,” he says, pivoting between paranoia and aggression. “I wish I was in China, ” he shouts, apropos of very little. “They’d put a bullet in my bloody head and I’d be out of the way.”
Nath, however, wants to put us in Martin’s bloody head, finding it clouded with obsessions, often muting the sounds around him, as though Martin’s ears were still ringing, or barraging
‘‘ It may be distressing to watch the contributors to this solemn documentary relive their traumas, their words halting and voices breaking under painful recollections. But they are here to counter that silence
him with sudden interference. It’s a horrendous experience. An absolute nightmare.
Unfortunately, everything that’s interesting about the case is beyond Martin’s cowled perception: the cautious concerns of his mother, the more strenuous worries of his alarmed neighbour, the contradictory evidence presented at his trial.
In court, it was revealed, the intruders had been anything other than silent phantoms (Martin claimed he did not realise he had shot anyone): the last word of the teenager, Fred Barras, shot in the back, was a helpless, “Mum”.
That’s as much voice as the deceased is afforded, however, which amplifies the unease around Nath’s decision to give the concluding minutes of his film to the real Martin. Originally found guilty of murder, but released three years later, on appeal, for manslaughter, Martin now sounds only more paranoid, more belligerent: “I’m going to look after myself,” he insists.
His earlier words, in the Stygian gloom of the interrogation room, were more darkly equivocal: “I was in a very regrettable position,” he concludes. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Nor, sadly, does this muted drama.
Follow a pattern
Beneath the private horrors of domestic abuse – and they are so often kept private – is something just as distressing: these violations so often follow a pattern.
To those caught within an abusive relationship, that can be hard to appreciate, as when Priscilla Grainger recalls the change in her husband as something like a bolt out of the blue. “There were no warning signs,” she says, “no flags flying.” On the second night of their honeymoon, he brutally assaulted her. “I was shocked,” she says.
That shock may owe itself, in part, to the stigma around abuse in an intimate relationship. Tabú: Ag Teacht Slán (TG4, Wednesday, 9.30pm) estimates that 300,000 people in Ireland have suffered at the hands of a partner; that roughly 75 per cent of women, and a similarly high percentage of male victims, never report it. One tactic of abusers is to intimidate their victims into silence. How disturbing is it, then, that such a silence has allowed the phenomenon to become so worryingly widespread?
It may be distressing to watch the contributors to this solemn documentary relive their traumas, their words halting and voices breaking under painful recollections. But they are here to counter that silence. Like Priscilla, most have stories of survival to share. But the family of Ciara Campbell, murdered in 2007 by her ex-partner, must represent her.
What compels Ciara’s father Mícheál Ó Cuinneagáin to speak, with such agonising detail about their experience, or Aisling Byrne, whose ordeal with an abusive husband intensified after the birth of her second child, if not the hope that others watching may be encouraged to act? In the case of “Joe”, voiced by an actor, it was an anonymous member of the public who reported his wife for striking their child in public, bringing an incredibly toxic situation to light. “I think that woman saved our lives, you know?” he says.
If the programme itself hopes to intervene, it is in highlighting how little provision there is nationally for women’s shelters, how overrun those that exist are, how taboo male victimhood remains, and how inadequate legal channels appear to be.
It is an alarming report, but the alarm is intended to rouse positive response. “There is always hope and light at the end of the tunnel,” concludes Aisling, now removed from harm and hopeful for the future. “But you need to be able to protect yourself. You need to be able to call on every support that you can.”
Steve Pemberton in The Interrogation of Tony Martin; I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here contestant Emily Atack; domestic violence survivor Aisling Byrne in Tabú: Ag Teacht Slán.