herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

A complex story of business gone bad

Blood and Oil (BBC2)
Siol (TG4)

Guy Hibbert is a television writer who's drawn to the big issues (No Child of Mine, Omagh). In the two-part Blood and Oil, which concludes tonight, Hibbert turns his attention to big- business corruption and exploitation in Nigeria.

Mark Unwin (Tom Fairfoot) is an English telecommunications engineer working for a fictional oil company in the impoverished but oil-rich Niger Delta.

When Mark and three of his colleagues are kidnapped by the armed militants of MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) --which is a real-life organisation -- Mark's distraught wife Claire (Jodhi May) immediately flies out from London.

On the same plane, though travelling first class, is Alice (Naomie Harris), a slick and ambitious PR woman employed by the company to manufacture some positive spin on the crisis and also big up the company's community-building projects in Nigeria.

Alice, the privileged, privately-educated daughter of a feted, self-made Nigerian business leader, was born in England and has never set foot in Nigeria.

There's an effective scene contrasting the frightened, confused Claire fighting her way through hustling taxi drivers with Alice gliding through the thronged streets in one of the company's bullet-proof 4x4s.

The company considers Claire's presence in the country as an unwanted complication and asks Alice to be her handler. Both women are told that MEND regularly kidnaps employees, but the ransom is always paid and the hostages always released unharmed -- "Although we'll never admit that publicly," adds a company suit.

When news comes through that Mark and his colleagues have been freed, Alice spies a golden PR opportunity: she and Claire will join the party heading to the pick-up point, and Mark and Claire's reunion can be captured on video.

When they arrive by boat, however, they're greeted by the shocking sight of Mark and his co-workers hanging by their necks from an oil platform. Soon, Alice is tipped off that all is not as it seems with the company and that she's being played for a sucker. She meets charismatic civil rights activist Tobedo (David Oyelowo), who insists the men were alive when they were released. Claire, meanwhile, discovers a video message from Mark, telling her he's involved in "something bad I can't get out of".

Blood and Oil is at its best when depicting the casual, everyday raping of Nigeria's resources by multinational corporations, yet it seems set on lurching into standard conspiracy theory territory, where the twists and turns to come are heavily telegraphed. Still watchable, though.

Siol, TG4's series of short films, offered us a futuristic tale called The Line, set in an Ireland where couples need a licence to have a baby and parents are responsible for their children until they turn 21.

It's hard to produce a convincing dystopian drama on a shoestring, but the makers gave it a go, with stark images like electricity pylons and mobile phone masts, filmed in washed-out colour, suggesting a bleak landscape.

The script was sketchy, the acting variable and the totalitarian henchmen (clad in what looked like a cross between a Beatles' suit and Patrick McGoohan's outfit in The Prisoner) faintly risible. Nonetheless, at least someone's trying something new.

TOMORROW: Pat reviews A Long Weekend with the Son of God (More 4)

STACEY'S STARS

Blood and Oil ***

Siol **

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