What to say if you liked it
An unbearably human story of tragedy, courage and resilience in the face of a heinous atrocity.
What to say if you didn’t like it
A documentary which tried too hard to embody the sense of trauma yet was too narrow in its scope.
What was good about it?
• The sense of dread as the initial reports of a “power surge” became evidently something more serious as the controller of the London Underground noted reports not only of the surge but also someone being knocked down by a train and two trains colliding.
• Instead of flailing around trying to provide a definitive account of the day, a more pragmatic and rewarding approach was employed. Aside from short interviews with the senior figure assigned to coordinate the investigation and treatment, it was only concerned with a few victims, police officers and firemen and their tales offered a perspicacious microcosm of the event which informed and swept the viewer inexorably along.
• Off-duty police officer Lizzie Kenworthy who bravely strode along the train towards the devastated carriage where she remained treating and comforting the wounded as best she could until relief arrived. She also needlessly blames herself that she could have done more to help the distressed people around her.
• The incredible stoicism and dignity of the inspiring Gill Hicks, who was in the carriage in the train which suffered the most fatalities. Her matter-of-fact style only added to the awfulness of what befell her. As soon as she came to her senses after the bomb, she realised her legs had been badly injured. But instead of panicking and screaming, she kept calm as she knew that alarm would only cause her blood to run more quickly and out of her body. And she then resolved to stay conscious as she knew that she needed to be awake to attract the attention of rescuers. As the rescuers found here she remembered: “The words, which I now think are the best in the English language – priority one.” Unfortunately, Gill lost the lower parts of both her legs but incredibly survived despite suffering three heart attacks and losing 75% of her blood.
• Gill’s story also illuminated the anguish extended far beyond what has always been the headline figure of the number of deaths. She, and undoubtedly many like her, were disabled by the bombings.
• PC Steve Bryan who went down the tunnels to reach the trains. He recalled: “There were body parts. Blood all over the window frames, the floor, the roof of the train.”
• The bit at the end when Gill met up with Steve and his colleague Aaron who had carried her from the train on a blanket, and were even told she died at the scene.
• The bitterness of fireman Adam Colebrooke-Taylor. As the rescuers sifted through the dismembered body parts, they moved the limbs and torsos with as much respect as they could conveniently muster, uttering a small apology. But it soon dawned on them that one torso (the head, arms and legs had been blown off), was the corpse of the suicide bomber and Adam regretted saying sorry to him.
What was bad about it?
• The introduction paraded the euphoria of the 6th of July when London was awarded the 2012 Olympics. It was an obvious signpost to illustrate how the joy was turned into despair less than 24 hours later. Yet its inclusion was a calculated gratuity, only the emotionally illiterate would have required such a precursor to be swept along by the horror of the bomb attacks.
• When the narrator darkly intoned: “The day the capital was at the mercy of the suicide bombers.” This exaggerated the contemporary impact the bombs had on the capital. The narration itself conceded that most Londoners were unaware of the reality of the assault until it was over. It also awards too much “credit” to those who perpetrated the bombings. Their purpose would have been partially the indiscriminate murder, but also the subsequent sense of terror; but within a few days, everything was back to relative normality save for the collective grief for the dead and injured.
• The title of the programme including the phrase “7/7”. Does every tragedy have to appropriate the day of its event? Shall Boxing Day forever be known as 26/12 because of the tsunami which killed an estimated 700,000? Is the proper name (“the bombings in London” as David Dimbleby correctly called it later in the evening) too ghastly to be uttered as if its very mention could bring down a baleful curse? Or is it, more likely, an exploitative attempt to “brand” the atrocity as though it were a new line of toothpaste, encapsulating it into easily recognisable terminology? Of course the “fortunate” thing here is that the month and the day were the same number, ensuring it could be translated unchanged into American English for Fox News et al. And no, this is not grasping at some foolish conspiracy theory.
• “One (of the bombers) had recorded a chilling message.” The word “chilling” has been rendered utterly impotent by its attritional ubiquity in newspaper headlines which seek to scare the public and thereby shift more units. And besides, the message wasn’t “chilling” at all; it was the deluded raving of a murderous idiot who sought to hide behind his god’s “word” as an excuse to carry out the killings and bury any lingering guilt and humanity into the “nobility” of his moronic crusade.
• A senior police officer disclosed he “issued a code word: Code Amber.” At which point the screen was bathed in amber light. It was more unnecessary decoration to the story.
• The news footage had a numbing impact through the repetitious broadcast in the aftermath of the attack, no matter how vivid the pictures – the blood on the walls near the exploded bus, commuters being treated in the streets. Perhaps it was the first-hand recollections we were hearing for the first time that dimmed the lurid images.