The Daily Telegraph
A surprisingly jaunty account of Alexei Navalny’s poisoning
‘This whole poisoning story is cooler than a Hollywood movie,” said Alexei Navalny in The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill (Channel 4). If it was a film, it would be a Bond adventure from the Sean Connery years: a handsome hero, Russian assassins, a megalomaniac villain and a dash of comedy.
Navalny built his profile as a leading opponent of Vladimir Putin through a series of satirical Youtube videos. This documentary from Jon Blair aimed for something of the same approach. The story at its heart was obviously terrible – Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent, survived against the odds, but is now in prison and reportedly in failing health – and yet it was told in a quirky style, broken up into chapters with headings like “Underpants at Dawn”.
Ah, the underpants. The most surreal episode here was when Navalny made a prank call to Konstantin Kudryavtsev, allegedly a member of the hit squad who had tried to kill him. Kudryavtsev, I hope I can say without becoming a Kremlin target myself, did not seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. He duly spilt the beans to Navalny, who was posing as an aide to the head of the FSB intelligence agency, on exactly how the Novichok was administered. “What clothing did you focus on?” demanded Navalny. “Well, the underpants.” “The underpants?” “Yes, the underpants.”
It was all pretty entertaining, which is an odd approach but in keeping with the man who hasn’t been killed (yet). I guess if you’re Navalny, you have to laugh because what’s the alternative? The list of Putin critics who have met unpleasant ends is long. The Kremlin says this is an unhappy coincidence (and claimed that Navalny’s collapse was due to low blood sugar).
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, popped up at one point; he and Navalny studied together at Yale. Rees spoke highly of his friend, as did everyone else on camera. This was certainly a flattering portrait. It touched briefly on Navalny’s past dalliances with anti-immigration rhetoric that referred to obliterating cockroaches, and Amnesty International’s decision at one point to suspend support for him. But all his supporters agreed that this was in the past, not in keeping with the man they know now, etc etc.
The last video that Navalny made before his detention revealed what he claimed was a secret palace belonging to Putin, complete with €700 toilet brushes. According to Navalny’s supporters, it succeeded in turning the Russian leader into a figure of fun. Is this true? And even if it is, does it matter? Navalny is locked up, so isn’t Putin the one who’s laughing now?
You may remember, a few months back, police digging up a café in Gloucester. They had received a tip-off that Fred West may have buried one of his victims, a young girl called Mary Bastholm, in the cellar. The search attracted a great deal of publicity but drew a blank.
That tip-off came from the company making Fred and Rose West: Reopened (ITV). The programmemakers had taken it upon themselves to launch a private investigation into the suggestion that the Wests may have killed 20 more victims whose remains have never been found.
Is this the beginning of a trend? Channel 4 recently aired the dreadful In the Footsteps of Killers, in which Emilia Fox from Silent Witness investigated cold-case murders. The West programme is an improvement on that, because it does at least involve a retired detective – Colin Sutton, whose impressive career in the Met included the convictions of killer Levi Bellfield and serial rapist Delroy Grant (the latter is about to be the subject of an ITV drama, Manhunt: The Night Stalker).
He was aided by Howard Sounes, a journalist who has written a book about the Wests, and Donna Youngs, an investigative psychologist. And they were joined by Sir Trevor Mcdonald and his trademark gravitas.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a television programme looking into a criminal case. But this one couldn’t help laying it on thick with the dramatic music, and the team standing in a darkened room with pictures of the victims pinned up on the wall behind them. The search for the farm where Fred West claimed to have buried 12 victims was pretty sensationalist, filmed in the style of Line of Duty: a car convoy, clues being noted along the way, Sutton and
Sir Trevor communicating via walkie-talkies.
Throughout, it was difficult to know if they were uncovering evidence that the police had overlooked, or if the police knew all this years ago but had ruled it out as serious lines of inquiry. There is a second episode tonight, but we know from the news reports that the investigation came to nothing.
The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill ★★★★ Fred and Rose West: Reopened★★