The week in TV: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius; The Diana Interview; His Dark Materials; Industry

A docuseries on Oscar Pistorius shamefully forgets his victim. Plus, the fallout from the BBC’s royal scoop 25 years on

Reeva Steenkamp with Oscar Pistorius, 26 January 2013.
‘Marginalised in the story of her own murder’: Reeva Steenkamp with Oscar Pistorius, 26 January 2013.
Photograph: Waldo Sweigers/AFP/Getty Images
‘Marginalised in the story of her own murder’: Reeva Steenkamp with Oscar Pistorius, 26 January 2013.
Photograph: Waldo Sweigers/AFP/Getty Images
Barbara Ellen
Sun 15 Nov 2020 04.30 EST

The Trials of Oscar Pistorius (BBC Two) | iPlayer
The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess (ITV) | ITV Hub
His Dark Materials (BBC One) | iPlayer
Industry (BBC Two) | iPlayer

Reeva Steenkamp was a 29-year-old South African model, presenter and paralegal who was murdered in the early hours of 14 February 2013 by her partner, Oscar Pistorius, who shot her several times through the door as she cowered in the bathroom of his house in Pretoria. Pistorius argued in court that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder but (eventually) he was found guilty of her murder, and sentenced to 13 years and five months.

I thought I’d lead with Steenkamp, seeing as she received far too little attention and respect in director Daniel Gordon’s sprawling (five hours and counting) docuseries The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, which frequently seemed more concerned with empathising with (talented, brave, inspiring, grief-stricken) Pistorius. To the point where I sometimes felt like shouting: “Hello, murdered woman in the vicinity!”

No one is denying the power of Pistorius’s story. The double-amputee “Blade Runner” dazzled the world at the 2004 Paralympics, going on to compete in the Olympics. Born with fibular hemimelia (his feet were amputated as a baby), Pistorius lost his mother young, and you can appreciate the loneliness and stress of life as an international sportsman. However, the parade of pro-Oscar talking heads here (family members, athletes, and the rest) eventually felt grotesque. As did the overdone background padding (South Africa, athletics, disability). Of course context was required, but this much? In a documentary about a murder?

Those speaking for Steenkamp did their best, but Team Pistorius dominated. Reeva’s immediate family didn’t participate, though their devastated countenance in court was an eloquent statement in itself. Gordon has said that he ended up “flip-flopping” over Pistorius’s guilt, which explains a lot, as this docuseries frequently felt akin to a public rehabilitation exercise. Not that it worked. Pistorius came across as a remarkable individual, but also a petulant, erratically tempered brat, increasingly obsessed with fast living and guns. Certainly, none of his “pressures” exonerate him from killing his girlfriend. It’s a disgrace that Steenkamp emerged from this docuseries not only as the victim, but almost as a missing person – marginalised in the story of her own murder.

The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess was a two-part documentary about Princess Diana’s groundbreakingly candid interview (“There were three of us in this marriage”) with Martin Bashir in 1995, involving interviews with everyone from the interview team, BBC executives, and then Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie (the Sun termed Diana “Princess of Sales”), to biographer Andrew Morton and reliably overeager royal butler Paul Burrell (Why do I always imagine him excitedly spraying breath freshener into his mouth before interviews?). It emerged as a tale not just of demystified modern royalty but also of tarnished media ethics.

Among other things, Bashir (currently recovering from major heart surgery, with complications from coronavirus) faked bank statements to make it look as though people around Diana were selling stories. Diana didn’t see the documents but her brother, Charles Spencer, did. Now, 25 years later, the BBC has announced an independent inquiry, which is right. The BBC can’t insist on integrity from everyone else and stroll away whistling from its own transgressions.

Diana, Princess of Wales on Panorama in 1995
Diana, Princess of Wales on Panorama in 1995, subject of The Diana Interview: ‘a tale of demystified modern royalty and tarnished media ethics’. Photograph: ITV

Still, watching again, it was palpable how Diana relished doing the interview. She started as an innocent 19-year-old dragged into a cold marriage of duty (Charles was already in love with Camilla). She deserves respect for surviving and thriving, emerging as a powerfully popular royal, who performed miracles for good causes. However, by 1995, Diana had evolved into a steely-eyed, media-savvy player (and I say that admiringly) who knew exactly what she was doing as she blasted a series of cannonballs through public perceptions of the royal family.

It seems obvious that Diana would have done a similar bombshell interview at some point, if not with Bashir. Similarly, my eyebrows rose to hear how much Diana would have liked Meghan Markle. (Really? Or would it have been too much competition?) Diana deserves sympathy for what transpired, but so does graphic designer Matt Wiessler, who was hoodwinked into producing the fake statements and then blacklisted by the BBC.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is one of those alternate worlds/young adult fantasy yarns (think Game of Thrones with parental control), and the television adaptation is exquisitely done. In the first episode of the second series, Lyra (Dafne Keen) crossed the bridge Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened into the new world, ending up in an abandoned city that, to my travel-starved, pandemic-raddled brain, resembled a rather lovely (Tuscan?) holiday destination. However, my pleasant reverie (“I wonder what their off-season family villa rate is?”) was shattered as Lyra, her shapeshifting “daemon” (usually shaped like a mongoose) and her new friend Will (Amir Wilson) contended with rising menace and tales of spectres attacking post-pubescents.

Dafne Keen returns as Lyra in His Dark Materials.
Dafne Keen returns as Lyra in His Dark Materials. Photograph: Bad Wolf/HBO/BBC

However, it was Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter who ramped up the terror, using only ordinary household items. Icy and understated, a vision of evil in scarlet body-con, she tortured a witch into giving up secrets, by tweezering (yes, tweezering!) out the twig-like witch powers that lay just beneath the skin. Woah! Scary stuff that perhaps warranted a warning: “Anyone who’s ever overplucked their eyebrows may find some scenes disturbing.”

Industry is a sharp new drama following the progression of five graduates-cum-City of London banker-wannabes, starring Myha’la Herrold, Marisa Abela, Nabhaan Rizwan, David Jonsson and Harry Lawtey. Written by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, with an opener directed by Girls’ Lena Dunham, it’s deftly executed, crackling with flinty ambition, insults (“you look like nightclub security”), and droll asides. In his applicant interview, Jonsson’s Eton-educated character, Gus, references Jesus Christ and Margaret Thatcher: “One is the reason we’re all here. The other is a carpenter.”

There were some clunking, cliched moments in the opening episode. Spoiler alert: I wish they hadn’t killed off Rizwan’s stressed, overworking character so quickly (thought to be based on the real-life tragedy of Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt in 2013). That apart, Industry looks promising, with a stellar supporting cast (including Ken Leung, Sarah Parish and Derek Riddell), and enough sulphurous puffs of cynicism to remind the rest of us that, hey, maybe selling your soul to the highest bidder ain’t so groovy after all.

Harry Lawtey, Myha’la Herrold, Marisa Abela, David Jonsson and Nabhaan Rizwan in Industry.
Harry Lawtey, Myha’la Herrold, Marisa Abela, David Jonsson and Nabhaan Rizwan in Industry. Photograph: Amanda Searle/BBC/Bad Wolf Productions