Tuesday, 26 August 2008

( New) Scots on the box

Trouble Sleeping, BBC 2 Scotland, Monday 25th August 2008

ere's a funny thing.

You know that
Armando Iannucci bloke? Scottish writer, producer? Wrote "The Thick of it" and a zillion other funny, funny shows? Well he was speaking at The Guardian's TV Festival thing in Edinburgh and he said (I read this in the paper by the way, I couldn't afford £400 to attend the festival! Fuck off..) that he'd like to see an HBO style channel created in the UK.

His argument was that the drama renaissance in the US has been predicated on the emergence of a subscription-paying audience for shows like The Sopranos, The Wire etc etc ad infinitum and he reckoned that the realities of rating-chasing network programming in the UK worked against the development of risky, thought-provoking drama. I think he spoke last Saturday and we had to wait till Monday for BBC Scotland to quietly deliver risky, thought-provoking drama in the shape of "Trouble Sleeping". Apparently based on the stories of asylum seekers living in Central Scotland, this drama was quite simply one of the best things I've ever seen on telly.

At best, Glasgow and Edinburgh provide a mute backdrop to the lives of the asylum seekers, the economic migrants and the odd pure chancer who make up a community where identities are never fully fixed, where crushingly long hours of insecure, often illegal work are the norm and, crucially for the story, one terrible atrocious act of torture and cruelty resonates across borders and down through time. The "host society" (for want of a better term) only camoes here in shape of the well-meaning church workers, the gimlet-eyed bureaucrats, the sheer affronted, livid tone of the wee weegie wumman who witnesses asylum seekers being bundled into the back of a police van.

We meet an Algerian who works in an Edinburgh Italian restauraunt, pretending to be Italian - he remarks wryly that his Italian identity makes him sexy and exotic to the locals, his Algerian identity perceived as threatening, a "fuckin' suicide bomber".

There's the Iranian claiming asylum by pretending to be gay so he doesn't get sent back to torture and death in Teheran. Except he is gay and he suffers at the homophobic hands of his fellow muslims, getting a kicking on Portobello beach, not from your stock Scottish skins, but from men he thought were his friends.

And then there's the story of the girl from Palestine, Halla, working to help other asylum seekers, happily married to a fellow Palestinian, with a beautiful baby.

Everything seems OKish until Ahmed turns up. Like her, a political refugee (and, it's hinted at) the real father of her child? Eh, no. The truth is much more awful, and to her, shaming, and is to be found in a prison back in Gaza where Ahmed witnesses her rape by the men who'd tortured him.

Ahmed needs her to attest to the terrible events so he can be granted leave to remain. "Torture" Ahmed says "kills us as human beings, we are already dead." Halla's decision on whether or not to relive the horror to save the life of another and reclaim her own humanity forms the beautiful, awful fulcrum on which the drama turns.

I can't recommend this drama highly enough and I can't praise douce old BBC Scotland highly enough for taking a chance on it. If you've got access to that BBC iplayer thing, do yourself a favour and watch "Trouble Sleeping" and then give thanks for your own warm, safe bed.

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