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TV reviews: War and Justice: The Case of Marine A

Benjie Goodhart / 28 July 2022

A new feature-length documentary looks at the moral complexities surrounding one of the most controversial cases in recent British warfare, and Worst House on the Street follows a young married couple renovating a house on a limited budget.

War and Justice: The Case of Marine A, Sunday 31st July, 9pm, Channel 4

It’s a complex business, morality.

I mean, the basics are pretty simple: Be nice to people. Don’t lie. Don’t nick stuff. Don’t be a bigot. Don’t leave your shoes lying at the bottom of the stairs. (You might not consider this last one a moral issue, but my wife would beg to differ).

But then shades of grey begin to emerge. Should you be nice to everyone? Is it okay to lie to protect someone’s feelings? Can you nick stuff if you’re penniless and your kids are hungry? Moral absolutism doesn’t really have a place in the real world, because life is more nuanced than that.

This documentary is all about morality. About right and wrong, the blurring of the line between the two, and how every individual case must be judged on its merits. It concerns the story of Marine A, a soldier who, in 2013, became the first British serviceman convicted of murder on a foreign battlefield since the Second World War.

Soldier A is Sgt Al Blackman of the Royal Marines. In 2011 he was on his second tour in Afghanistan. In September of that year, he was on patrol when a nearby checkpoint was attacked by two insurgents. Blackman and his patrol were sent to investigate. Much of what happened next was captured on helmet cam footage, and the rest on microphone.

In short, they discovered one of the insurgents, who was badly injured after being shot by a helicopter. The rules of warfare dictate that, at this point, he should have been given first aid by the patrol, before being evacuated by helicopter to hospital. That is not what happened.

Instead, Blackman shot the injured man. At this point, he asked his fellow soldiers not to speak of this, as he had just broken the Geneva Convention. Later, when he was questioned, Blackman claimed to have believed the insurgent was already dead when he shot him.

Now, at first, this case all seems pretty cut-and-dried. And nobody – including Blackman himself – is suggesting that a crime was not committed here. What he did was unequivocally wrong – grotesque, even. I remember hearing about the case at the time, and wanting Blackman to be severely punished for his barbarism.

But, like I say, morality is a complex business. And nowhere does to come under more strain than in the field of battle. Having established Blackman’s criminal wrongdoing in the opening third of this film, this feature-length documentary then sets about muddying the waters, in the best possible way, by making the viewer consider all of the extraneous aspects of the case.

In short, this is a film about the intolerable stress we place on the men and women in our armed forces, and the way we treat them when they subsequently fall short of our moral expectations. What this film explores in fascinating detail is that Blackman didn’t exist in some sort of a hermetically-sealed vacuum, but was instead struggling through the filth and terror of living every day in what pretty much amounts to hell on Earth. It is in that context that we need to view his actions.

The film succeeds on two levels. First of all, it allows the viewer to feel a degree of sympathy for Blackman whilst never attempting to downplay the moral abhorrence of his actions. Secondly, it throws light on the tireless campaign fought by Claire Blackman, Al’s wife, on his behalf. In some ways, this is a love story as much as it is one about war and death.

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Worst House on the Street 1/6, Tuesday 2nd August, 8pm, Channel 4

Another day, another property show.

The premise of this one is how to buy somewhere run-down and do it up. “Always buy the worst house on the best street” is apparently an adage on property circles. Although, chances are, the property’s particulars won’t exactly advertise it as the worst house on the street. In estate agent land, a house with no roof gets described as “an alfresco living experience.”

The series is presented by brother-and-sister duo Stuart and Scarlette Douglas. Viewers may be familiar with Scarlette as one of the presenters on A Place in the Sun. Stuart, meanwhile, a former professional footballer, he’s retrained as a physio, and works for Bournemouth FC. He and Scarlette also have a thriving property business, and now a TV presenting career.

With Dion Dublin now presenting Homes Under the Hammer, perhaps the route from professional football to TV property presenter will become a well-trodden one. You can just see footballers reaching their 30s and starting to practise in the mirror at home: “Putting in a new bathroom suite can add up to 5% to a property’s value.”

This week, Stuart and Scarlette are helping a young married couple, Harry and Yimika, who have bought a house in Croydon for £415,000, and have a budget of £40,000 to do it up. Now, if you happen to live in Downing Street then £40k will buy you a few rolls of gold-embossed wallpaper. But for Harry and Yimika, they need it to stretch to a complete overhaul of what is unquestionably the worst house in the street. It’s in a shocking state. It reminds me of where I lived as a student – in a flat that was an utter disgrace when we moved in, and considerably worse by the time we moved out.

Anyway, you pretty much know the drill here. Most of the programme is spent following the renovations, with Stuart and Scarlette popping by every couple of months to offer advice and to look worried about how it’s all going. There’s a fair bit of discussion about chimney breasts, and the inevitable hiccups emerge (leaky roof, asbestos etc). Along the way, there’s some useful advice and practical tips. Whereas shows like Grand Designs all feature architects worrying about the delivery of a £50,000 piece of curved glass being shipped in from Antwerp, this show features people worrying about how to save a few hundred quid here and there, so it’s practical and relatable.

But we’re all waiting for the same thing, really: the money shot. The big reveal at the end of the show. And, it’s fair to say, on this crucial element, the show does not disappoint. What Harry and Yimika achieve on their modest budget is simply phenomenal.

The show, then, is pretty formulaic, but it works. Stuart and Scarlette are well-informed, charismatic presenters, even if we are treated to the inevitable ‘bantz’ between the two, which seems to be an unavoidable staple of these shows. Like Phil and Kirsty, property’s undisputed king and queen, they engage in debate about whose tips worked best, and who has been the more useful of the pair. But it’s difficult to begrudge them this predictable quirk, because the show is ultimately a satisfying and informative watch, and the presenters themselves know their onions.

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The best… and the rest:

It’s a quiet week in tellyland, thanks to the Commonwealth Games, and the fact that it’s summer. That’s my way of telling you that I’m not just being lazy.

Saturday 30th July

Tommy Cooper: 30 Greatest Moments, 8pm, Channel 5: A two-hour celebration of one of the most loved and iconic British comedians of all time. Who else could be recognized by a red fez alone? This film traces Tommy’s career through his funniest routines and most ridiculous one-liners. From entertaining the Duke of Edinburgh in 1955 to his tragic death live on stage, broadcast to the nation in 1984.

Monday 1st August

Susan Calman’s Grand Week by the Sea 1/5, 8pm, Channel 5: A second series of seaside jaunts with the bubbly and boundlessly enthusiastic comedian. Each day, she’s in a different seaside resort, as she celebrates some of the best of the British seaside. Starting tonight with Skegness. Continues over the next four nights.

Friday 5th August

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em: A Comedy Classic, 9pm, Channel 5: One-off documentary about one of the most popular British sitcoms of all time. At its peak, around half the UK population was watching the outrageous antics of hapless Frank Spencer and his family. This film reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of how the show was made and became so popular, uncovers the secrets behind the increasingly outlandish stunts, and the surprising stories of how the show’s stars were cast and the real-life inspiration for the bonkers plotlines.

Update: This article was corrected on 01.08.2022 to remove an inaccuracy regarding the events in Afghanistan 

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