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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Justice? No – this was just tacky exploitation

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Justice? No – this was just tacky exploitation of a victim’s bravery

The Family Secret


Takaya: Lone Wolf 


Restorative justice. Even the words sound meaningless: a bunch of syllables plucked out of a hat, or a phrase for social workers to spout at meetings.

You can be sure half the councils in Britain have sent staff away on courses to learn about restorative justice. Money well wasted.

This vague waffle was all anyone could offer Kath, a young mother who bottled up the private ordeal of being repeatedly raped by her older brother Robert, for four years from the age of seven.

This one-off film - The Family Secret - had no business squeezing low-budget entertainment out of Kath's pain

This one-off film – The Family Secret – had no business squeezing low-budget entertainment out of Kath’s pain

The Family Secret (C4) invited us to sit in with Kath and her mother, Andrea, as they sat in a dingy civic side-office to confront Robert and demand his apology.

Kath finally worked up the courage to go to the police, 25 years after the abuse started. She was told that nothing could be done. ‘Restorative justice’ was her only recourse.

Robert was filmed mostly from behind, or in a tight close-up that showed one watery blue eye, a ginger tuft of eyebrow and a bobble hat pulled down low.

He wasn’t going to risk being identified, though presumably anyone who recognised Kath or Andrea will know who he was. Nobody stopped to wonder why he was willing to meet his sister on camera, but he could always say it was to demonstrate the strength of his regrets.

The film-makers didn’t seem to consider the possibility that, though he didn’t show it, Robert was relishing this. He got to describe for an audience what he’d done to his sister, lingering on moments that he called ‘being intimate’, before promising to be ‘better than I was’.

Just as disturbing was the way the documentary manipulated the story. We weren’t told for the first 20 minutes who Kath’s abuser was, and the fact that recriminations and fall-out had split up her parents after 40 years of marriage was saved for a sort of punchline.

The camera stalked their family home, slowly pushing open doors like a killer in a slasher movie. A whining hum pulsed over parts of the film, and when clips were played from a family video of Kath’s seventh birthday party, the audio was fed through a creepy echo loop. It was cheap and tacky.

Co-presenter of the night:

Philip Schofield was joined by Pharoah the llama as he looked at festive toys on How To Spend It Well At Christmas (ITV). Toy or real, llamas are all the rage, but I’m not sure I’d want one. How difficult are they to housetrain?

Kath was brave to look into her brother’s face and tell him how much she despised him. This one-off film had no business squeezing low-budget entertainment out of her pain.

The eerie howl of a lone wolf, a staple of spine-chilling films, is often heard by townsfolk on the outskirts of Vancouver, on Canada’s Pacific coast.

It’s the cry of a lonely bachelor wolf known as Takaya, who swam out to an island nature reserve seven years ago and has lived there ever since, hunting mink and otter, and raiding goose nests.

Takaya: Lone Wolf (BBC4) was a love letter of a documentary, heartfelt though sometimes too slow, that was filmed by conservationist Cheryl Alexander. She has been gradually winning the animal’s trust as she fends off busybody authorities claiming the wolf poses a danger to locals.

Signs on the island warn: ‘If you encounter a wolf, do not run, as this could trigger a predatory response.’ On the other hand, they add: ‘Never treat a wolf as if it were a dog.’

Right-o. I suppose ‘Sit!’ and ‘Who’s a good boy?’ aren’t likely to work.

Takaya’s high, lonesome howls seem to be working their magic, though. The sound can carry for up to 100 miles, and has attracted a young female. She’s living onshore, raiding gardens and howling back. Oww-oooohh!


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