There are a lot of things to be afraid of in the made-for-television movie, “Dirty War.” A few shots of terrified naked women shouldn’t be among them. “Dirty War,” a coproduction of the BBC, is currently being aired on HBO and will run on PBS on February 23rd. PBS has taken a pre-emptive strike in order to avoid a potential fine from the FCC for indecency — on the heels of the recent decision, prompted by the now-departed FCC Chairman Michael Powell, by ABC affiliates not to air Saving Private Ryan because of its use of the f-word.
This is what our culture has become, thanks in part to Janet Jackson, who exposed a breast during the halftime Super Bowl show and unleashed a firestorm of controversy and, surprise surprise, publicity. It was this sort of publicity that made me want to watch “Dirty War,” just to see what all the fuss was about. After all, what kind of nudity would so freak out PBS that they made the BBC make all sorts of creative cuts in the film?
“Dirty War” takes us through a spine-chilling what if scenario that has your typically anal, devout, robotic Islamic terrorists carrying out a 9/11-like attack right in the heart of London. The film unfolds from a clumsy, mismanaged emergency drill that should be proof enough that London wasn’t nearly prepared enough to take on a real life bomb attack. Nonetheless, the Minister of London (Helen Schlesigner) must pretend to the public at large that yes, London is prepared; after all, they can’t go around passing out gas masks on subways for no reason because would that just cause panic.
Meanwhile, a terrorist cell is getting ready to strike. While the terrorists are moments from being caught, they proceed with their plan. Their meticulous preparation, which includes communicating via disposable cell phones – they communicate, then dump their SIM cards, they are never seen together, they have long since assimilated into British culture, they don’t know one another – is intercut with agents digging up dirt on the people they suspect are involved. We get a crash course in how terrorist cells work – who might be involved, how they’re involved, what they’ll do.
Sadly, the agents arrive too late. The van is parked on Liverpool Street, with two martyrs saying their prayers for the last time before the van explodes, sending smoke and debris flying through the air. And from that moment on, as the London police try to contain the tragedy, it is complete and total chaos – a perfect example of how one carefully timed attack could grind a big city like London to a halt.
Unlike the planes that hit the Trade Center towers in New York, this bomb is full of radiation, that rapidly expands through the city streets. The radiation is so high, the people in the vicinity must be held and decontaminated before they’re allowed to leave. They must give up everything, including their clothes. And lo, nudity occurs.
As important as it is to show how vulnerable and helpless a human is being under such an attack, the nudity serves to make the film seem more real somehow – perhaps more real than any of us would like to believe. But alas, careful editing will have to cover this aspect up, giving PBS audiences a slightly more polite format.
“Dirty War” is a horrific film to watch, especially since we all know how easy it would be to pull off. What’s also horrifying is how much of a fuss was kicked up over a few shots of a few normal looking women being hosed down. How could you sit your kids down to watch this film and be more worried about naked breasts than about seeing two terrorists blow themselves up in a van? To see people’s faces bloodied and slashed? What kind of a culture shames nudity yet celebrates violence? The same culture responsible for putting “Desperate Housewives” at the top of the ratings.
“Dirty War” is currently airing on HBO through January.
Thursday, January 27
In Style Celebrity Weddings, 8 p.m., ABC.
Earthquake (**), 8:30 p.m., AMC.
Dirty War, warring on the streets of London, 9 p.m., HBO.
The Plot to Kill Richard Nixon, tells the story of Sam Byke, 9 p.m., HISTORY.
Friday, January 28
Blood Simple (****), early Coen brothers movie, 8 p.m., IFC.
Sunny (***), from 1930, 8 p.m., TCM.
Working Girl (***), Melanie Griffith pre-plastic surgery, 9 p.m/, FMC.
Numb3rs, with Rob Morrow, 10 p.m., CBS.
Saturday, January 29
Dogtown and Z-Boys (***), 7:30 p.m., IFC.
The Usual Suspects (****), 8:45 p.m., IFC.
Snow Dogs (**), 8 p.m., ABC.
Copycat (**), second rate serial killer movie made bearable by Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter, 9:15 p.m., TNT.
Sunday, January 30
Empire Records (***), from 1995, 8 p.m., WE.
The Magic of Ordinary Days, with Keri Russell, 9 p.m., CBS.
Carrie (****), “creepy Carrie, creepy Carrie!” 9 p.m., AMC.
Masterpiece Theatre: Island at War, 9 p.m., KCET.
Monday, January 31
Pretty Baby (***), with Brooke Shields, 7:30 p.m., WE.
The Next Wave: Science of Tsunamis, 8 p.m., TLC.
The American Experience: Fidel Castro, 9 p.m., KCET.
Medium, 10 p.m., CBS.
Tuesday, February 1
Mutiny on the Bounty (****), from 1935, 7:30 p.m., TCM.
American Idol, 8 p.m., FOX.
Frontline: The Secret World of the Credit Card, 9 p.m., KCET.
History Detectives, 10 p.m., KCET.
Wednesday, February 2
Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, 9 p.m., KCET.
Lost, here’s to hoping the show never ends, 8 p.m., ABC.
American Idol goes up against Missy Elliot, 8 p.m., Fox and UPN respectively.
How Green was my Valley (***), the best picture winner that beat Citizen Kane, 9 p.m., FMC.