Magazine article The Spectator

After the Tsunami

Magazine article The Spectator

After the Tsunami

Article excerpt

There was much pre-publicity around Tsunami -- The Aftermath (BBC1, Tuesday) implying that the second anniversary of the disaster was a little early to turn it into drama, and that the film would be distressing and demeaning for the victims' families. I could see the point, though what struck me most was that with more than a quarter of a million people dead, there were enough tragic stories available without having to invent more. It was as if the producers had thought, well, there is plenty of grief and anguish out there, but it's not quite the grief and anguish we're looking for. Let's bring in some scriptwriters to give us tailor-made grief and anguish, neatly trimmed to fit into our format and make the best use of our expensive cast.

And yet the whole thing was surprisingly moving and on the whole worked well.

They used a cunning device for the precredits. A boatload of tourists had left their luxury resort in Phuket, Thailand, to go on a diving trip. Though they noticed the sea behaving strangely they hadn't been hit by, or even seen, the tsunami. So we watched them return to the smashed hotel, the grave for several of their loved ones, as horrified and bewildered as survivors of a nuclear war. The gradual realisation of what had happened gave a dramatic focus to the opening that the tidal wave itself -- one moment nobody feared a thing, the next minute their lives were destroyed -- could not have provided.

It was, given its length, inevitably rather slow at times (TV dramas are so much longer than feature films these days) and the makers had not woven together the dozen or so strands an equivalent American film would have used. So there were basically only five stories: white British family lose husband and possibly (we'll know next week) a son as well. Black British couple lose their daughter. British envoy is harassed by the British survivors.

Cynical British reporter rediscovers his humanity. Thai youth's village is ruined and evil property speculators arrive to cash in. As it happens, the Thais didn't get much of a look-in except as corpses, who, we are told, earned much less than Europeans in the same roles, which sounds disgusting but which presumably represented supply and demand in Thailand. So there were an awful lot of people looking wild-eyed, or running after trucks shouting, 'She's a little girl, only six years old, please, has anyone seen her?' But then you think, it must have been very much like this, why are we complaining if it doesn't move the plot along? Or, wouldn't it have worked better as a documentary? …

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