Storyville – documentary or drama?

I came across something last night which had me quite puzzled. It was a double episode of Storyville on the BBC about north Korea. While it claimed to be a documentary, watching it, it felt more like some kind of scripted, directed drama pretending to be a documentary. It was supposedly about a spy who was planted as a ‘mole’ in the Korean Friendship Association, a group trying to change perceptions of North Korea, in an attempt to gain access to the secretive state. While it was very interesting, to my eyes, something about it didn’t make sense. It was supposed to be shot entirely on hidden camera, and while many of the shots seemed that way, some of them were straight out of standard television dramas. There was no way the film’s makers could have got those shots through entirely hidden footage. And then we have the problem that some of the scenes we were shown seemed too convenient; we were privy to conversations which were too unlikely, yet too central to the plot, to have been captured purely through chance. Thus something about this film didn’t ring true, and I couldn’t quite make out whether I was watching a documentary or drama. Of course, answering these questions would mean rewatching and analysing the program shot by shot, but given that the subject of the program is currently so critical to geopolitics, for the BBC to air such an ambiguous film in the first place strikes me as very puzzling indeed.

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