BBC Four, Thursday 26th April, 2012
“Dramatised account of film-maker Sean Langan’s kidnapping in 2008 while on a quest to become the first western journalist to film the Taliban training camps. In a bizarre meeting of East and West, the self-confessed adrenaline junkie strikes up an unlikely friendship with the deeply Islamic family holding him captive. As his captors become his hosts, he begins to question his own motives and discovers a common humanity across the vast cultural divide.” – Sean Langan is played by Douglas Henshall.
Review of The Kidnap Diaries
Although it is hard to imagine a predicament more frightening – and hence more dramatic – than being held hostage, hardly any of the high-profile kidnap stories of recent years have been dramatised. Presumably this is because kidnappings involve a lot of sitting around, usually in the dark. In A Mighty Heart director Michael Winterbottom tried to get round the problem by telling the story of Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping from the point of view of his wife, played by Angelina Jolie. The result was an unfortunate combination of earnest and boring. The Kidnap Diaries (BBC Four) was less stagy, more bitter sweet, somehow more human. It told the story of how, in 2008, Sean Langan set out to be the first western journalist to film in a Taliban training camp. He was kidnapped and held hostage for three months instead. For this drama, based on his story, we were taken inside his head during his captivity, via flashbacks to him playing with this children, a devise which brought a sense of balance and depth to the narrative.
As played by Douglas Henshall, Langan seemed sympathetic and good-humoured. What made his story chilling was the way his Taliban captors were portrayed – they seemed quite sympathetic, too. Indeed it was a sense of their common humanity – Langan talked to them about his love for his children – that persuaded them to spare his life. One even sounded like a character from Lawrence of Arabia: “Bloody good stuff, Mr Langan.”
That we knew the ending already didn’t seem to compromise the tension. And it seemed to be about the right length, at one hour. It opened with Langan in a hotel room rehearsing to camera what his film was going to be about. His nerves were palpable, as was his vanity and ego – memories of his ex-wife joking about “The Sean Langan Award for Stupid Bravery”. The most moving scene came when his Pashtun captors allowed him to leave a farewell message on her answering machine: “I don’t want to scare you, but I might not get the chance again to tell you how much I love you.”
About a third of the way into The Kidnap Diaries, Langan tries to convince his captors that he is not a spy but rather an ordinary journalist, a hack who covers anything and everything. It was at this moment that dolphins popped into my head. Though I don’t think I’ve ever met him, many years ago I did commission him, over the phone, to write an article for this paper about rescuing dolphins off a beach in Cornwall. A true hack, indeed. Much braver than most, though.
© Nigel Farndale, The Telegraph, 27 April 2012