Pandemic 2020

Photograph: BBC
Rating 8.0
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 3 x 60 mins

On December 31st 2020, we all – whilst sat at home confined to the company of housemates or family members only, sadly sipping a glass of bubbly – cheered on the end of a pretty terrible year. But now, well into 2021, for some reason TV producers think we want to sit and relive it via the medium of telly. We were sceptical, but after seeing this wonderful and insightful docu-mini-series, they might just be right.

Made by the team behind the brilliant (and one of our highest rated shows) Once Upon a Time in Iraq, the three-part series documents how each stage of the pandemic has affected different areas of the world, and those who have lived through it. Using the same style, the film focuses on the lives of the everyday person, using archive news coverage and governmental announcements to offset these first-hand accounts of the often emotional and starkly honest stories on how varied the reaction and handling of the pandemic has been across the globe. And there’s no narration to drive us through it – these honest chronicles and the accompanying footage are more than enough to tell this tale.

We meet Qiongyao and Jie, a young couple in Wuhan who watch in disbelief as the virus spreads across the world, exasperated at governments not taking obvious actions to control it. Then we travel to the poverty-stricken areas of Bogotá in Columbia, where residents hang red clothes and towels out their windows to signal to relief teams that they need help. And then to Britain, to meet Dr Amie Burbridge, a consultant in acute medicine who looked broken by her experiences of the first peak and its tragedies, weeping over the first covid related death she witnessed, serving as a stark reminder of how our healthcare workers suffered throughout this pandemic.

Pandemic 2020 is an emotionally intelligent film, which, despite not shying away from the failings of many countries’ authorities, doesn’t turn into an excuse to bash governments. And it doesn’t leave us feeling even more exasperated over our recent experiences, choosing to end the film by showing us potential routes which could lead us to a covid-free future. What a thought.

Lucy Mangan in The Guardian calls it “a masterly mapping of the physical journey of the virus and the emotional landscape of those affected,” and praises the film’s producers for creating a “moving and sometimes hopeful three-parter that offers a global perspective on the crisis.” Like Mangan, The Times’s Carol Midgley gave the series four stars, whilst the Independent’s Sean O’Grady gives it a full five, saying it’s “basically a series of witness statements to a human collective failure, to help remind us about what happened, but also to offer insights from across the globe,” and in terms of Covid-19 docs, this “is certainly the best thus far.”

First shown April 2021.

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