The Mark of Cain, Channel 4, April 5, 9pm


From what's in this article I do fear about the film and how the forces will be shown.......

A force for good?

The moral dilemmas British soldiers face in Iraq are exposed in a new Channel 4 drama, says JASPER REES

An early scene in The Mark of Cain finds British soldiers in a quandary. Patrolling the tumultuous streets of Basra, they intervene to prevent a mob murdering a Kuwaiti accused of smuggling petrol, only to be warned that if they don’t shoot the suspect, there will be a riot. To keep a lid on the simmering tension, their only option is to take the possibly innocent man into the back of a van and, one by one, beat the living daylights out of him. Such is peacekeeping in Blair’s Basra.

The verdict of American film-makers on the invasion of Iraq is on hold. As with Vietnam, national uncertainty about exactly who are the good guys, and how the story ends, will delay the glut of cinematic autopsies until after the occupation is over.

It’s been a different story for British heavy hitters. David Hare’s Stuff Happens and Peter Kosminsky’s The Government Inspector focused on the legality of the Iraqi invasion, while Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo and the Tricycle’s Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom depicted the moral vacuum at the heart of extraordinary rendition. Last summer, the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Black Watch, by Gergory Burke, an improvised verbatim account of regimental disillusionment in Iraq, was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival; it is now touring.

Now comes The Mark of Cain, by Tony Marchant, which tells of two squaddies from Lancashire who are charged with abusing Iraqi detainees. It was filmed last summer in Tunisia and the north of England, but transmission has been delayed pending the conclusion of a six-month court martial covering similar charges and, coincidentally, involving a Lancashire regiment.

This being Marchant — who, in original dramas such as Holding On and Kid in the Corner, has hunted for the root cause of moral failure in both individuals and society — The Mark of Cain is less about atrocity itself than the forces that drive normal people to do ethically abnormal things.

The answer, according to Marchant, is a brutalising cocktail of peer pressure and regimental solidarity. The beating of the Kuwaiti was related to him in one of the many preparatory interviews he conducted with Basra veterans, their families and lawyers. “When you write about Iraq,” he explains, “the moral lens is completely skewed. What we would think of as a socially desirable outcome is completely different to the soldier’s view. You don’t have to obey any order that is unlawful, but how do you not if you know that the consequences of not obeying are that you will be ostracised by your platoon? In bread-and-butter terms, do you turn your back on something that is really unpleasant or do you get involved?”

The two main characters, childhood friends played by Matthew McNulty and Gerard Kearns (one of the stars of Shameless), choose to get involved, only to discover, when they are charged, that their superiors are able to wriggle out of blame, thanks to an unspoken system in which guilt is stratified by linguistic competence. “It’s a class thing,” says Marchant. “People who know how to use euphemisms can get away with things. If you talk about how you want someone to be treated ‘rigorously’, that isn’t an order — which means that, if the shit hits the fan, you can be exculpated. Further down the line, it’s, ‘We’ve got to give a bloke a kicking.’”

Arriving as Blair’s premiership draws to a close, and in the absence of an American dramatisation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, The Mark of Cain is thus a timely depiction of the way leaders sever themselves from direct responsibility for acts committed by the men under them. Of course, it also has to work as drama. Marchant located the dramatic potential of the subject in a five-line news story about a British squaddie who naively took his photographs of detainees being abused into Snappy Snaps. “The scandal was unwittingly uncovered by a girl who happened to shop him to the police. I thought, that’s a way in.” The drama ups the stakes. Returning full of stories from his tour of duty, the squaddie is reported to the police by a spurned girlfriend.

Marchant attended the ensuing trial in Osnabröck. This was six months before photographs of similarly repugnant acts emerged from Abu Ghraib. “What was interesting was the impact of the photos when they were being circulated. They were shocking, direct and graphic. There was just that sense of, ‘We don’t do this.’”

When it comes to dramatising those images, The Mark of Cain does not stint. The dehumanising of both soldier and victim starts modestly enough. Trophy photographs of squaddies with their haul are taken with digital cameras on the way back to base after a tense patrol of the city streets. But in due course, detainees are urinated on, jumped on and forced to fellate each other.

“Of course, you get some thugs,” Marchant says, “but I was much more interested in the people who made a journey from being an average, typical 18-year-old to doing something appalling. An argument I heard a lot is that you can improve morale: ‘We have to do this to avenge the death of our mate or popular section commander.’ If you beat up a detainee, it helps everybody feel better. You are reaffirming your bond. You don’t get involved in the mistreatment of detainees as an individual. It’s done as a group thing. Constantly, there is this schism between a view of morality over there and how we would view it over here. It wasn’t that it was morally aberrant to do unspeakable things. It was a moral obligation.”

The Mark of Cain, Channel 4, April 5, 9pm
I was much more interested in the people who made a journey from being an average, typical 18-year-old to doing something appalling"
Because a film about the journey from being an average, typical 18-year-old to doing something totally extraordinary (ala Pte Norris, Pte Beharry, etc.) would just be boring and non-sensationalist wouldn't it.

I'm not watching this gash.

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