Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Culture TV and Radio

“An expert demonstration of compelling and timely television, the Lockerbie review stands out as a lesson in impactful storytelling.”


The documentary series Lockerbie, consisting of four parts, is a well-crafted portrayal of a true-crime story that was carefully and compassionately put together. It provides intriguing insights into a story that may be familiar to many. The initial episode sensitively recounts the tragic events of December 21, 1988 in the Scottish town of Lockerbie. On that day, Pan Am Flight 103, en route from Frankfurt and London to Detroit via New York City, exploded in mid-air, resulting in the deaths of all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board, as well as 11 people on the ground. The incident was initially referred to as Britain’s worst air disaster, but it soon became known as the deadliest terrorist attack in US history up to that point.

There are numerous ways to recount the events, and many have been attempted previously, but this series adopts a multi-dimensional approach. It includes extensive and comprehensive interviews and archival news footage. The series begins on the ground, with the residents of Lockerbie sharing their experiences of where they were and what they were doing on that fateful night, just moments before a series of explosions shattered their windows. Some were watching This Is Your Life, while others were preparing turkeys for Christmas. When they emerged from their homes, they were unable to comprehend the devastation before them. Some believed it was a military incident, while others suspected a chemical tanker explosion, but none could make sense of the damage on both sides of the town caused by a single accident.

Margaret and Hugh Connell, a local couple, have put together an album filled with photographs of the aftermath of the crash in their area. They carefully labeled and inserted the pictures into the book. Along with other residents, they discovered bodies, including one still in their seat. They stayed with the victim until they were taken away. Later, they learn the identity of the victim and meet their family. Through archived news footage and accounts, others share their experiences: a reporter who was among the first on the scene reflects on aerial footage of the aftermath that still confuses him. Another man continues to be haunted by the traumatic sights that landed in his garden. The album also includes snapshots of suitcases, doors, clothes, and a child’s shoe. We are introduced to two women who washed the found belongings so they could be returned to the families of the victims. They share that it was the teddy bears that affected them the most.

There is extraordinary access to some of the key figures in the official investigation, which adds real narrative urgency. Retired FBI special agents Dick Marquise and Phil Reid, integral to the US investigation, explain how and why they built a case against Libya, resulting in the 2001 conviction of the late Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. In among its many layers this is a gripping detective story, albeit on a staggering scale. At 845 sq miles, Marquise explains, it was the largest crime scene in history.

Lockerbie provides a thorough understanding of the geopolitical background, especially in regards to the development of certain theories regarding the bombing. While there are conspiracy theories, the filmmakers handle them with sensitivity, recognizing that there are differing beliefs among the families of survivors. Some accept the official explanation, while others are more doubtful.

Dr. Jim Swire, who is now 87 years old, is the person who has brought all these elements together. His daughter Flora, who was just shy of turning 24, was tragically killed on Pan Am Flight 103 while she was on her way to visit her boyfriend in the US. For the past three decades, Swire has been dedicated to investigating the bombing and does not believe the official explanations. He is particularly outraged by the fact that American diplomats were warned about bomb threats on flights from Frankfurt to the US, while regular passengers were left in the dark. He firmly believes that there is still more to the story that has yet to be revealed. However, the series presents a clear and unbiased perspective. This is necessary because, as the final episode reveals, this is an ongoing issue.

The creators of the film never lose sight of the human tragedy that occurred in Lockerbie. Victoria Cummock recalls hearing about the plane crash and taking a moment of silence for the victims. She also notes that her husband, John, was scheduled to be on the same flight the next day, but was actually one of the victims. The film introduces us to various individuals – fathers, mothers, children, and partners – each with their own memories, questions, and ways of coping. It tells the story of Pan Am 103 and the events in Lockerbie, including investigations, trials, and different theories and facts. However, at its core, it is a portrayal of grief and is both poignant and skillfully executed.

“Skip the promotion for the newsletter.”

Source: theguardian.com