Written by TV

The Force

There’s a lot of rubbish on televison. Most of it in fact.
But once in a while there’s something good. And even more rarely, something exceptional gets aired. Last night on Channel 4 we got the latter. The Force is a new three part documentary from Patrick Forbes. He’s made some excellent observational documentaries in the last couple of years including National Trust (which I haven’t seen but was widely praised) and English Heritage (which I have seen and is excellent).
In these films he follows the Hampshire Police as they solve crimes. That could be very dull – the networks are full of cheap observational police documentaries. ITV airs Nightwatch every night after all. But this was something more than drunken youths in a city-centre somewhere being locked in the cells overnight.
We followed a case where a body of a young woman was found burnt in a suitcase. A nasty murder. The police had to piece the whole case together. The body was unidentifiable initially, and they had no witnesses. A car had been seen and had an accident. They had some of its paint. Slowly the story came together. But forensics in real life aren’t as slick as those of CSI or other dramas. DNA evidence doesn’t always come up trumps.
The film was edited in such a manner that it felt like a well-told crime drama. Yet it was real, and the death of the young Polish woman was not just some Sunday evening fun. There was tension and reality – the cameras couldn’t always be everywhere at exactly the right time. But we saw enough to realise that here were a group of people diligently carrying out their job even when somebody at Vauxhall was being unhelpful about getting a German contact to talk about paint to.
Curiously the film’s credits listed Mark Strong as narrator, yet one of the film’s strengths was that it had no narrator. Maybe I’ve forgotten about something at the start, but all the information that we needed to know was conveyed in brief on-screen captions. Indeed my biggest complaints about contemporary documentaries – that they feel the need to recap after every ad-break – was nicely side-stepped by a brief summary caption for latecomers or the slow of thinking.
Overall this was a little gem, and I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series.
Do yourself a favour and watch the first episode. It’s repeated on Channel 4 this Thursday at 1am (ie. Very early on Friday morning), so set your PVR for then. Or watch it again on demand. You’ll thank me later!

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