In Review

Podcasts of the week: espionage, ballet and war crimes

Featuring British Scandal, Finding Natasha and The Line

There are few subjects more serious than murder, yet there are lots of podcasts that stretch the limits of taste by treating the topic in a deeply “whimsical” fashion, said James Marriott in The Times. Before listening to British Scandal, “a whimsical podcast about the death of Alexander Litvinenko”, I confess I was already wagging my finger and “packing my bags for a nice hike up to the moral high ground”. But “annoyingly, I really enjoyed it”.

The story is “obviously superlatively gripping”. There are Russian spies, meetings in Mayfair hotels, a polonium-poisoned teapot and Geiger counter-wielding detectives. And though the hosts, Alice Levine and Matt Forde, revel in the tale’s “tabloidy” aspects (one of the supposed assassins dreamt of being a porn star) and engage in jolly banter, it somehow all works a treat. The next series covers the death of Dr David Kelly. “Now that will be tasteful, I’m sure.”

Finding Natasha tells the “incredible” story of Debbie Gayle and her quest to track down Natasha, the Russian woman she believes saved her life. In 1974, when Debbie was a 17-year-old ballet student, the British Council announced a unique scholarship for one star student to attend the world-leading Kirov ballet school in Leningrad, said Anna Moore in the Daily Mail. The idea was that cultural exchanges might help defuse Cold War enmity.

Debbie won the scholarship, but her elation was short-lived. It turned out the scheme had been foisted on the unwilling Kirov, and her Russian classmates were instructed to ignore her. Conditions were harsh: the disoriented teenager struggled to find adequate black-market food, and within months she was desperately ill in hospital.

No spoilers, said Fiona Sturges in the FT, but the story of Natasha, a young Kirov secretary, and how she helped Debbie, is a “dramatic” tale told in an “atmospheric” fashion. The podcast has been made by Debbie’s son – the journalist Jake Warren – and is arguably as much “about memory and family dynamics as about the weird world of Soviet ballet”.

In May of 2017, Eddie Gallagher, who was then a US navy Seal, allegedly stabbed a young Iraqi Islamic State fighter who had been taken prisoner in Mosul, and “posed with the teen’s corpse”, said Mythili Rao in The Guardian. He was later convicted of war crimes. The Line is a “tightly crafted” six-part series from Apple and Jigsaw Productions exploring the case.

This “bracing” podcast features courtroom audio from Gallagher’s military trial, “eye-opening” interviews with dozens of navy Seals, and extensive interviews with Gallagher, whose crimes were pardoned by the then president, Donald Trump.

The Week Unwrapped: Pride flags, Denmark and animal magic

Why won’t the Pentagon fly the flag for gay pride? What led Denmark to deport Syrian refugees? And how do birds see through magicians’ tricks? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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