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Television: Authentic portrayal

14 March 2012

by Gillean Craig

WHAT is the world coming to? Yet another sympathetic TV depiction of a C of E priest, implying that — for all his ineffectuality — here is a good man doing a worthwhile job. The chaplain in Prisoners’ Wives (BBC1, Tuesday of last week) was not central to the drama, but faith and the acceptance or rejection of moral regeneration certainly was.

I only picked up the final episode of this series, which meant that many of the threads escaped me, but the overall thrust was clear, and it was both engaging and moving.

It trod the narrow line between glamorising, brutalising, or senti­ment­alising the world of crime and punishment. Despite the odd cliché, here we encountered the sour taste of fear, of impending violence and pain; the overwhelming miasma of being caught up in a way of life which suddenly reveals its bitter reality, that affects not just the criminal but his family, and sets up a train of events that will scar both your future and theirs for decades.

The chaplain had to deal with not a prisoner’s wife, but a mother, distressed about her son’s going badly wrong, but whose faith en­abled her to seek a new start with him, based on contrition and honesty. Un­fortunately, it also made her fall in love with the hapless cleric, pinning him to the altar with a passionate kiss as they cleared up after the self-help group.

Her subsequent remorse, self-hatred, and distress was the most powerful human emotion I have seen on TV for many years. The son repaid her love for him by joining the one group of prisoners who offered him help: he converted to Islam. A serious drama, about a serious subject.

Sunday evenings are currently illuminated by a surprisingly fas­cinating science documentary series, Orbit: Earth’s extraordinary journey (BBC2), which tells us about the effect on our world and on our lives of the earth’s annual journey around the sun.

Last Sunday’s programme began with an arresting sequence. One of the two presenters struggled up a mountain in Scotland on 3 January, in blinding snow, and zero visibility, to get as close to the sun as is ever possible in our islands — because this is the day of the perihelion, when, because of our elliptical orbit, we are some 5000 kilometres closer to the sun than at the farthest point, and receive seven per cent more solar energy than in July.

Why, then, was it blisteringly cold? Because of the earth’s tilt, which means that, at our latitude, we are facing away from the sun for half the year. Consequence after consequence of this annual cycle was offered for our enlightenment: the only thing I missed was linkage to the Common Worship calendar of seasons.

There was much scarier sun-based TV in Solar Storms: The threat to planet Earth (BBC2, Tuesday of last week). As we learn more about what happens on our life-giving star, it becomes clearer and clearer that its potential to deal us death is high. Solar storms shoot vast plumes of destructive energy into space, kept at bay only by earth’s magnetic field. Even so, they can knock out electric power grids and destroy satellites. Our culture is based entirely on both of these, but they could be wiped out, relegating us to famine, war, and pestilence.

More an Advent than a Lenten theme.

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