United by difference

27th June 1997 at 01:00
United Kingdom! BBC2 Tuesdays, 9.00-9.30pm June 24-July 11 Age range: 14+

These BBC2 films could claim to be not merely a new series of documentaries, but a new kind of documentary: fragmented, but amounting to more than the sum of its parts (which range in length from one to 60 minutes), all dealing with aspects of the same subject: life in Britain today.

Within that general brief, there is an emphasis on youth and on social problems which make several of the sections of particular interest to teachers.

The collection opened on June 24 with a film about a man who describes himself as "the Queen's most loyal subject". He follows her and other members of the royal family around, taking photographs, offering presents and trying to engage them in conversation. The royals react with varying degrees of politeness to his attentions, and the film asks questions about the status of the royal family and about the nature of obsessive fixations with famous people. This exaggerated image of loyalty to the concept of the United Kingdom was a good starting point for the series, though far from typical of what was to come.

The last film (on July 11) profiles the young members of the Welsh Language Society who disrupted a royal visit to Aberystwyth, as part of their campaign to highlight the threats to Welsh culture.

Similar culture clashes are examined in "White Settlers" (June 24), "Quarry Queens" (June 25) and "Tunnels and Trees" (July 10): Scots highlanders want to protect their traditional way of life from outsiders; rich newcomers object to economic development in their idyllic rural backyards; and less well-heeled protesters defend nature from the motor car. Two films from Northern Ireland warn of what can happen when cultures fail to co-exist.

For Kevin ("Working for the Enemy", June 28), the clash is essentially one of class. Kevin has never worked and considers that to do so would be to submit to an unjust system; he lives off the dole and the earnings of his girlfriend. His life, like that of ex-con Tony "(I Just Wanna Be Joe Public", July 7) and 16-year-old Isgard ("Sweet Sixteen", July 8), is reaching a crisis point. Not so Dave the swimmer ("Keeping the Dream Alive", July 11) as he ploughs his way through Coniston Water, hour after hour, training to achieve his lifetime ambition of swimming the Channel. A couple of disabled actors, a Muslim family with a rare hereditary disease and a West Indian ski club are among the subjects of the other films.

The Britain they reflect is not the one advertised in the tourist brochures, and not even the United Kingdom of the series title, but a hotchpotch of sometimes violently conflicting aspirations and attitudes. It does no harm to be reminded that that is where we live.

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