A Song for Jenny

Is one death a tragedy and a million deaths a mere statistic? Hopefully not. But it does help our understanding when misery wears a human face. Which is why A Song for Jenny, BBC1’s beautifully judged film about one family’s desolating loss in the July 2005 London terror attacks, felt like a shard through the heart in an age when it’s all too easy to become dulled by the rolling horror of 24-hour news.

Jenny Nicholson was just 24 when a bomb ripped apart the Tube carriage she was travelling on between Edgware Road and Paddington. She shouldn’t even have been on that train, but a problem – an ordinary, workaday technical fault on the Piccadilly Line – forced her to change routes. On such moments of blind, stupid chance are lives made and lost. You might call it fate but, as Jenny’s mother Julie pointed out, fate didn’t kill her daughter. A human being did.

Adapted from Julie’s vivid memoir, the film was unflinching in its forensic study of the early hours and days after a disaster: the agony of not knowing, the fleeting cruelty of false hope, the moment when friends and family begin to run out of forced-smile reassurances, the panic as the language of the TV news shifts from ‘rescue’ to ‘recovery’. And, finally, the terrible confirmation of the worst of all fears.

Julie, a vicar who later resigned after doubting her faith, felt a compulsion to stare every detail of her child’s death in the eye, even forcing herself to look at pictures of what remained of her body. ‘These are my daughter’s Stations of the Cross,’ she said. ‘I’m her mother. I’ll be with her to the end.’ You will not find a more heart-wrenching moment on television this year.

Anchored by an emotionally raw performance from the wonderful Emily Watson, A Song for Jenny did not sweeten its bitter pill with any trite attempts to extract meaning or redemption where there was none to be found. If it carried a message, it was in the small moment when Julie told a policeman to go home to his children and ‘hold on to them’. I certainly hugged mine a little tighter on Sunday night.


TV extra:


Virgin Atlantic: Up in the Air

Airline shows were all the rage about 15 years ago, when TV execs suddenly decided there was nothing more thrilling than people getting irate at an easyJet check-in desk. This one adds a dash of glamour courtesy of Virgin Atlantic’s army of well-scrubbed, scarlet-clad cabin crew, who radiate an air of cool, Catch Me If You Can-style jet set allure, despite slogging back and forth up the aisles for an average of seven miles during a typical long-haul flight, for a starting salary of just £12,500. Peanuts, madam?


Seven Days with Jake Quickenden and Danielle Fogarty

‘An ordinary week with an extraordinary couple!’ trilled the voiceover at the start of ITVBe’s latest celebrity snoopfest. That might be pushing it: former Scunthorpe brickie Jake Quickenden’s fame amounts to failing to win two reality shows, while girlfriend Danielle doesn’t even qualify for a Wikipedia page (I know, I checked). ‘I think the main thing you’ll see,’ said Jake, ‘is that we’re just normal’. Oh, come on: what about when you accidentally put the sweet potatoes in the wrong drawer? TV gold! Next week: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Possibly.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 9, 2015

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