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Why is there so much overtly violent drama on TV?

McMafia, Britannia, Hard Sun and even Endeavour: call me squeamish, but it’s just too much, says Alison Graham

Published: Sunday, 4th February 2018 at 9:17 am

For years and years I carried in my purse a dog-eared organ donor card that I’d customised with the words, “Take what you like but please don’t touch my eyes.”


After some time my nearest and dearest persuaded me I was being an absolute idiot, that my eyes wouldn’t be ripped from me while I was reading the latest issue of World of Interiors. I did the socially and morally responsible thing, tore up the card and registered online, properly, allowing permission for the full works. Go on, help yourselves to the lot.

But it’s a measure of my squeamishness about anything to do with eyes. I can’t bear to wear contact lenses, for instance, and I nearly passed out at a surrealist exhibition when I unexpectedly came upon a display featuring that horrible slicing scene from Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou.

So I’ve had a torrid few weeks, running screaming from the building as dramas have ramped up the torture, sadistic violence and baroque murders. And it’s not just the eyes that have it. The horror, the horror. Why is there so much of it?

Even dear Endeavour, which returns to ITV this week (see our feature on page ten) has a ghastly eyerelated murder, though there’s a classical reference, so I suppose we’re meant to think that’s OK, no harm done, it’s one of a series of clever murders and they don’t count. Now, I love Endeavour, but I had to look for a cushion to hide behind at this point.

The barking bonkers Britannia (Thursday Sky Atlantic), Jez and Tom Butterworth’s heady, trippy Romans-in-Britain drama featured a pesky, big-mouthed Briton prisoner being tied up and blinded with a hot knife by a Roman army chief as a punishment for his insults.

Try watching telly with your hands over your eyes and your fingers in your ears. While you’re screaming, “No, no, no, make it stop!” as I was.

Possibly there’s an historical context, maybe this kind of thing really did pass for a good time in Roman Britain, but I’m not ready for it yet. If ever.

In the same episode yet another troublesome chap was tied up and, as he screamed in dreadfully realistic-sounding agony, a lump of skin was carefully cut and peeled from his chest by his captors as a means of torturing the truth out of him.

At this point I was tempted to hurtle into the street, flag down a passing car and demand to be driven to Venice. Or anywhere, just to get away. And I haven’t even mentioned the beheadings and the live burial in the first episode.

I wonder why television has suddenly stepped up the brutality. It’s not just boutique shows on boutique channels, like Britannia, mainstream stuff is increasingly icky.

There was a revolting throat-slitting in the first episode of McMafia (Sunday BBC1) and someone was shot in the knees in the following episode. In the first episode of the ghost story Requiem (Friday BBC1) a woman cut her own throat, which is at least novel, I suppose. If not impossible, surely?

Hard Sun (Saturday BBC1) is, David Butcher tells me because I can’t face it, wincingly horrible. In its very opening scene a mother stabs her teenage son in the cheek as she defends herself from his vicious attack.


And there’s more; much, much more. I don’t know why I even bother to keep a tally or rail against this kind of thing, because clearly scenes of extreme violence and torture are OK, and just a part of what we watch. Sad, though, isn’t it?


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