Michael Portillo – Digging Up The Dead Review: Grave Television

November 8, 2009 by  
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3.5MICHAEL PORTILLO: DIGGING UP THE DEAD: Monday 9th November, BBC Four, 9pm Alert Me

Spain. Rugged mountain escapes and shimmering shoreline destinations.

Oh yeah, and thousands of mass murder graves.

A tad harrowing, Digging up the Dead examines the trauma Spain faced following the end of its bloody civil war 70 years ago. General Franco’s brutal dictatorship and military coup beginning in 1936 that spawned years of murderous rampages and “graves of oblivion.”

Today, digging up the past is a raging debate in Spain. For some, there are psychological implications. Laura Lorca, a relation of world-renowned poet and playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca, is against reburying the murdered individuals. But for excavators and orphaned individuals, a dignified burial is the retribution they have sought for over 60 years.

Michael Portillo, our half-Spanish host, gets to the heart of the matter, visiting Malaga’s San Rafael Cemetery, his family’s roots in Madrigal, and Lorca’s unmarked grave in Granada.

He weaves in the story of his refugee father–strewn together from his own memories, as well as both his English mother and Spanish cousin’s accounts–with hard historical facts from Professor Paul Preston of the London School of Economics. Portillo’s balanced narrative allows us to decide for ourselves what to think of “digging up the dead.”

Whilst an hour too long, the documentary proves perceptive and rewarding.

Danielle Jacoby