For those who simply can't wait for the next season of PBS's Call the Midwife — and I'm right there with you, pining for those good ladies of midwifery — a band of hardy World War I nurses from Down Under might just be the ticket. Over the next six Mondays, streaming service Acorn TV is importing the Australian miniseries ANZAC Girls, which takes a similar approach of mixing sentimental period romance with harsh life-and-death trauma.
"Call me old-fashioned," a stiff-upper-lip lef-tenant — how very Sleepy Hollow — announces to Alice (Georgia Flood), the most spirited of the young nurses from the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) to embark on this grand, though grueling, adventure to exotic locales including Cairo. "War's no place for a woman," the officer declares. With the tragedy and senseless loss of Gallipoli on the horizon, he has a point — and yet, let's call him old-fashioned.
ANZAC Girls has plenty of old-fashioned storytelling virtues as it introduces its crew of heroines, whose very presence in wartime is viewed with skepticism, amid suspicion of immorality at every swoony date or tryst. But when there's work to be done, with casualties pouring in from land and sea with grievous and gory injuries, these Girls will by necessity soon graduate to womanhood.
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HATE CRIMES: An incendiary and disturbing look at prejudice in its most brutal form, the HBO documentary Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia (9/8c) gets unusual access to vigilante groups in Russia who, emboldened by the government's "propaganda law" and its anti-gay stance, target homosexuals with Internet entrapment, fear and intimidation tactics, and gruesome assaults. Many of these violent attacks are captured and disseminated on online videos, which flaunt these hate crimes with little fear of criminal reprisal.
In the most unsettling scene of director Ben Steele's raw exposé, we see a gang calling itself Occupy Pedophilia (as if homosexuality and child abuse are synonymous) invite journalists to record — up to a point — their smug plot to lure a gay man (identity obscured for his own protection) into an apartment, where the terrified victim is harassed, humiliated, mocked and interrogated. "We'll destroy his life, as usual," brags their leader, a woman named Katya. It is nearly as chilling to watch police break up an "assembly" of two people picketing against the government's policy not to prosecute such hate crimes. "This is a tipping point toward fascism," says a straight sympathizer, a teacher whose own livelihood is in danger because she dares to promote tolerance. When another member of a supposedly family-values organization declares proudly of his homeland, "This is hell for homosexuals," this important but hard-to-watch film gives us little reason to dispute his claim.