Five may not be the UK's most-watched terrestrial TV channel, but personally I think their programming is often far superior to either BBC1 or any of the ITV channels. They're particularly good at commissioning documentaries (which are a lot cheaper than drama, I guess), and have screened lively and informative docs covering everything from art, military history, engineering, medical issues to...well, you name it.
"Banged Up Abroad", produced by Raw TV, is a case in point. The reconstructions using actors are not cheesy (BBC, take note), the camera-work is not intrusive with faux-verite shakiness (everyone else, take note), it's well directed with the minimum of voice-over, and manages to extract heartfelt, and often very moving, narratives from the actual protagonists.
It also skillfully avoids falling into a trap of implicit racism concerning the foreign countries where people find themselves imprisoned. Very often conditions are shocking, and the prison system in question is failing miserably on inmates' rights, but the programme never lazily and simplistically portrays foreign nations as inherently corrupt and beyond-the-pale.
I've found every episode both gripping and illuminating from beginning to end. One can only imagine how hammy BBC1 would make it, with someone like Michael Burke doing the voice-over.
It's a shame that this series, currently airing, consists of only four episodes. This week they told the story of two American girls imprisoned in Peru, so perhaps they will continue to spread their net to relate the stories of other non-Brits. It would also be interesting to hear the stories of those not imprisoned for drug offences - how about the testimony of someone held at Guantanamo Bay?
Let's hope that this excellent programme has a third series.
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