CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Fear, anxiety and panic

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Fear, anxiety and panic – it’s just another day in Breakdown Britain

Witness Number 3

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Long Lost Family Special: The Unknown Soldiers

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Everyone’s looking for ways to be terrified. Britain feels like a country constantly on the brink of apocalypse — whether it’s Covid, climate change or Putin.

A state of panic is now ingrained, induced by lockdowns, war footage of bombed-out apartment blocks in Ukraine, documentaries about melting icecaps and slogans warning of planetary extinction.

Witness Number 3 (C5) captures and distils the atmosphere of constant fear pervading the country.

You can’t escape, it says. Nowhere is safe any more for you and your family. Whatever you do, death will find you. Nina Toussaint-White is outstanding as Jodie, a young mother who starts by thinking smugly that she’s doing the right and virtuous thing, and is soon overwhelmed by terror.

Witness Number 3 (C5) captures and distils the atmosphere of constant fear pervading the country. You can’t escape, it says. Nowhere is safe any more for you and your family. Whatever you do, death will find you. Nina Toussaint-White (right) is outstanding as Jodie, a young mother who starts by thinking smugly that she’s doing the right and virtuous thing, and is soon overwhelmed by terror

The threats begin after she goes to the police to report a suspicious incident. Staring out of the window of her hairdressing salon on a London estate, she saw one man frogmarching another across the road.

The victim was later found stabbed to death. Jodie picks out the assailant from a series of photofits (‘Worst dating app ever,’ she jokes, looking at the faces on a screen.) and agrees to give evidence.

Writer Thomas Eccleshare’s script evokes that sensation of fear piling up in layers, the feeling that however bad things get, there’s always the potential for them to become worse.

The killer is a kingpin in a drugs gang, and his minions stalk Jodie — sending spine-chilling film clips to her mobile, and videoing her with her son outside their apartment on a sink estate.

Hints are mounting, too, that she hasn’t been picked out at random. The police liaison officer (Sion Daniel Young, brilliant last year as Colin Stagg in C4’s Deceit) seems creepily well informed about her private life. And Jodie’s ex-boyfriend is an addict who has left her with nightmarish memories of trauma and abuse.

This four-part psychological thriller continues tonight. By the end of the first episode, Jodie was screaming with fear and rage in the wreckage of her vandalised shop.

It’s an ugly but powerful metaphor for how endlessly impending doom is making us all feel. Whether you can cope with seeing more hyper-anxiety on the TV is up to you.

Stark statistics, at the end of Long Lost Family Special: The Unknown Soldiers (ITV), reminded us that at moments in our history when apocalypse really has struck, panic was oddly absent.

Harry Miller (right) and his wife Melita (left) and their baby George. One woman in Durham recalled a family legend of how her uncle Jimmy, just a toddler at the time, marched down the street with a toy gun behind his father, Harry Miller — who was setting out to France. Harry never came home. He died in October 1917 at Passchendaele, and his body was not recovered. But DNA tests identified him after the remains of nine men were discovered by Belgian workmen

The selfless bravery of men going off to fight in the trenches during World War I, and the stoic courage of families they left behind, is still unspeakably moving. One woman in Durham recalled a family legend of how her uncle Jimmy, just a toddler at the time, marched down the street with a toy gun behind his father, Harry Miller — who was setting out to France.

Harry never came home. He died in October 1917 at Passchendaele, and his body was not recovered. But DNA tests identified him after the remains of nine men were discovered by Belgian workmen.

Presenters Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall didn’t need to add any suspense. The facts were heart-breaking enough, especially when we realised Harry’s widow, Melita, died of scarlet fever a few months later, leaving four children orphaned.

Harry’s young officer, Second Lieutenant Leslie Ablett, was also among the dead. He was just 20, and wore a signet ring inscribed by his sweetheart, Peggy.

A final caption revealed that, of the 880,000 British and Commonwealth personnel killed during World War I, more than half are still missing. That’s a truly fearsome thought.

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