EASTER Week was marked by the Lord's Prayer's turning up as
dramatic utterance of choice in no fewer than two TV plays. Holding
avowed Catholic convictions, I have taken a couple of weeks to tune
in to the series Broadchurch (BBC2, Mondays), but it seems
clear that the driving impetus is less a celebration of
middle-of-the-road ecclesiology than the playing-out of a murder
mystery in a town of that name. This is being hailed as our
response to the Nordic noir genre of detective dramas.
The parallels are clear: the murder of an innocent, suspicions
of child sex-abuse, and moral compromise all add to the complexity.
Suspicion points to the loner newsagent, Jack, who is forced to
sell the very papers that are whipping up a lynch mob for him.
It is he who resorts to reciting the Paternoster - but to no
avail: by the end of the episode, his corpse is found on the
shoreline. The Vicar plays a more sympathetic part than we have
come to hope for, although his pastoral advice to the mother of the
murdered child is pathetically inadequate.
It is just possible that he is being set up as a prime suspect
for a later episode, and this leads to my general judgement:
despite the stellar cast and excellent direction, the writing and
plotting is not, in comparison with the Scandinavian models, good
enough; an authentic sense of despair and outrage at a community's
defilement is adequately inhabited by neither characters nor
The Village is BBC1's current Sunday-evening costume
offering, and it, too, presents an underlying sense of comparison:
this is the sordid truth about what life in rural England around
the time of the Great War was really like. All the top TV actors
not booked for Broadchurch have been signed up for this,
and they throw themselves wholeheartedly into this tale of
unrelenting poverty on a Derbyshire farm, and snobbery at t'big
The external force that throws it all into relief is a
suffragette, Martha, the daughter of the Nonconformist minister,
who turns up to wreak havoc in the breast of labourer and toff
alike, while antagonising drinkers at the local by quoting the new
laws against their sabbath drinking. It is these denizens of the
snug who turn against her, reciting the Lord's Prayer to discomfit
Church and chapel are set in apposition: while the congregation
assembling for matins all turn their faces to the wall so as not to
gaze on Lord Allingham's disfigurement, the chapel folk hear
Martha's papa (robed incorrectly, surely, in surplice and white
stole) deliver an anti-war tirade.
The production's intentions are admirable, and it achieves
levels of dramatic intensity that engage us. But we had, in last
Sunday's final minutes, a hanging, a baby delivered by a
ten-year-old brother, and a cow that will save the family brought
home in triumph.
It combines Thomas Hardy's unrelenting gloom with D. H.
Lawrence's insights into how sexual passion simultaneously redeems
and destroys - but the hectic stirring-in of every conceivable
ingredient makes it, for me, teeter on the edge of that other
revelation of rural England: Cold Comfort Farm.