aberfan

The Crown “Aberfan”

I consider watching The Crown to be a guilty pleasure more than anything else. I know these people generally aren’t good people, and the institution that protects them is even worse. (Please someone put Prince Andrew in prison already.) So I don’t really watch it to feel emotion, just to marvel at the costumes and cinematography and occasionally learn something new about recent history.

“Aberfan” was different, though. I already knew the basics about the Aberfan disaster, how it could easily have been prevented and how most of the victims were young children. But that didn’t prepare me for how it’s all portrayed in this episode. You get to know the kids and their parents a little bit before the opening credits and then fifteen minutes later the adults are frantically digging through rubble with their bare hands to find their children. Most don’t succeed.

116 children altogether died at Aberfan. It wasn’t that long ago, 1966, and there are still survivors alive. Some of them consulted with Netflix on this episode, which was absolutely the right thing for Netflix to do when releasing an episode about something like this. There’s an article about it from the Radio Times here which has some words from the survivors and it also mentions how Netflix provided a psychologist for them. That’s good too.

This is a stunning episode of television. It’s beautifully shot. All through it you feel like an outsider observing terrible grief from a safe distance, which is exactly what the Queen does in this episode.

The bosses who allowed the accident to happen are given no sympathy here, none whatsoever. The episode also kept in the most famous quote regarding the tragedy –

The brave front of the people of Aberfan cracked on Monday at an inquest on 30 of the children.

There were shouts of “murderers” as the Coroner of Merthyr, Mr. Ben Hamilton, began reading out the names of the dead children.

As one name was read out and the cause of death given as asphyxia and multiple injuries, the father of the child said “No, sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board”.

from here

I don’t know the name of the person who said that either in real life or in the show, but it’s in there.

All in all this feels like a respectful treatment of a terrible event, but at the same time… I wish it hadn’t all been squished around a plot about the Queen trying to explore her emotions. In terms of The Crown itself it’s good character development and all but I kinda feel like something like Aberfan is bigger than one episode of a TV show. It’s good in terms of getting the story out there, because I’m pretty sure the disaster is completely unknown of outside the UK, but I wish it hadn’t taken a million-dollar high-profile show like The Crown to get to tell the story, you know? We should have talked about the tragedy more without having to drag the Queen, who was barely involved, into things to make it more interesting/marketable/what have you.

I have really mixed feelings about all of this, you can probably tell. But I was sad watching it, and I did cry. Partly because I feel like, you know, a few more seasons to go and The Crown can do an episode about Grenfell, and by the time that happens there’ll probably have been at least one more preventable disaster caused by faceless corporations, and then there’ll be another one after that and after that and after that, long after the Queen is dead and The Crown is done.

The Accident is not good, at all

Like a lot of Brits I was kinda intrigued by the trailers for The Accident. It looked sort of unimpressive aesthetically, I thought, but it had some good actors attached and an interesting premise. So I watched it. Hooooo boy.

Here is a summary of the first episode of The Accident:

Down-to-earth Welsh hairdresser Sarah Lancashire walks into her 15-year-old daughter’s room and finds her having sex with an older guy. Instead of ripping his balls off or calling the police (as having sex with a 15-year-old girl is you know ILLEGAL) she seems pretty chill about it all and tells the guy (uh, the pedophile) to escape out of the window before the girl’s dad comes back. Okay.

Downstairs the husband comes in and he’s dressed in a banana costume for a fun run. The adults go off to the fun run and while they’re there they listen to some clunky foreshadowing about how much everyone loves the village and will fight for it etc etc. Meanwhile some teenagers including the daughter are meeting up at an old abandoned building.

These are BAD KIDS! You can tell because some of them have DYED HAIR and PIERCINGS. They sneak under the extremely ineffective barbed wire and start vandalising the place. One of them spray-paints a willy which is the only realistic thing anyone in this story does. While the daughter and her friend are painting a butterfly mural on the upper floor of the building for some reason, there’s a massive gas explosion. Oh no! The explosion can be heard at the fun run zone and all the adults decide to go and see what happened. Okay, that I can buy, as I also live in a village and villagers are nosy AF.

The parents hear that kids are inside the building, which is odd cos no-one saw them go in, and start worrying. A phone call comes in from one of the girls (the daughter’s friend?) which confirms that a whole bunch of teens are trapped. Cut to some heroic firemen working to free them, using a angle grinder, WHICH SHOOTS SPARKS EVERYWHERE, in a GAS EXPLOSION. I considered for one second that that maybe was a plot point and the rest of the show would be about prosecuting incompetent rescuers, but… um, it seems not.

Anyway at this point the head of the company which owns the building shows up, despite this apparently being a pretty remote Welsh village, how the hell did she get there so fast?! Sarah Lancashire, whose daughter is trapped within rubble and possibly dead, hits this lady with the mild insult “you built this place cheap as chips!” Um, it’s past the watershed, you can swear, you know. A TV camera is filming this because the TV cameras are there, in this remote village where an explosion happened apparently less than an hour ago.

Then the building collapses completely and kills almost everyone inside! Who saw that coming? Dust fills the air. Everyone looks… peturbed. Maybe shocked at a pinch. And… that’s it for the big scene of horror and grief!

But, seeing as Sarah Lancashire is the main character her daughter survives, albeit so severly injured she might be disabled for life. Emergency services whip body bags out right in front of the crowd, way to go guys. Also one of the firefighters is dead, this is Alan who is married to Debbie, a deaf woman. Casting a deaf actor (Genevieve Barr) to play a deaf character and making her disability not the most important aspect of her is the only good move this show appears to have done, I think.

Okay so Sarah Lancashire heads to hospital with the other parents and watches them one by one learn their kids have died. This is the episode’s only actually well-done scene. One of the mothers (the mother of the daughter’s friend?) walks past SL and snaps sharply and horribly “She’s dead” and that got me right in the gut, credit where credit’s due.

While in the hospital SL talks to a guy who apparently saved her daughter in the building but we didn’t see him there who what why?? Also the nurse lets her go in the room, what the hell kind of hospital is this?

Back at home it turns out SL’s husband has been beating her and is about to do so again. She lets him do it and then comforts him for a while. That scene got a lot of criticism on Twitter (yes, I was eagerly Twittering along with others as it aired, and there was barely a positive tweet in the bunch) but actually I was okay with that, it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility for a victim of domestic abuse to act that way. Refuge thought so too and posted about it which I thought was a good move.

Nearly at the end now. SL’s daughter starts communicating with her mother via blinking and the grieving parents hold a vigil. Company lady goes on TV, the clip of SL shouting “cheap as chips” gets dramatically played over and over and I found that hilarious, oh god I’m sorry. Not only am I not convinced the writers of this have ever met a Welsh person I’m not entirely sure if they’ve ever met a British person, no one has said that phrase in years.

The ‘next time’ trailer sees the deaf lady being beaten up, so much for a sense of community spirit.

This show is getting rave reviews across all the major British outlets and I have honest to god no idea why. See, it almost reached “so bad it’s good” levels, but the thing is: this was loosely based on two real-life tragedies: Grenfell and Aberfan. The Accident – a show about specifically children dying in a Welsh disaster – aired almost 53 years to the day after Aberfan. If you’re British or keep up with world news I won’t have to tell you about Grenfell, which was only a couple of years ago. Even sidestepping the issue of why there are so few Welsh actors in a drama inspired by Aberfan and so few black and Muslim characters in a tale inspired by Grenfell, the tweaking of the story (the death of innocents caused by bad corporate policy) to make the victims partly responsible for their own deaths leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. No-one in Aberfan or Grenfell Tower were breaking into a building when they were killed. This show, it feels exploitative and just so… cheap.

Cheap as chips.