I HAD planned to review
Jerusalem: An archaeological mystery story, a documentary
propounding the theory that modern research disproves the accepted
story of the expulsion of Jews from their city after the AD 70
uprising, scheduled to be shown on BBC4 on Thursday of last week;
but at the last minute its screening was cancelled.
The scenario of
dispersion and exile plays a central part in the history of the
Early Church, and it seemed likely to be well worth our attention.
Why wasn't it shown? Digging around unearths a complex and
unedifying story. The director, Ilan Ziv, states that his film was
not archaeological, but an examination of the ideological and
historical underpinnings of contemporary Middle Eastern politics,
largely built on what he believes to be the myth of Jewish exile.
It appears that anxiety about potential reaction drove the BBC into
Although it offered a
similarly radical revision of accepted attitudes, less controversy
will probably be engendered by The Genius of Turner: Painting
the Industrial Revolution (BBC2, Friday). This proposed that
we should see the great artist less as a portrayer of the grandeur
of nature, and more as a man of his time, intoxicated by the
technological revolution that was transforming Britain.
It looked terrific,
despite the distracting dramatic reconstructions and second-rate
cartoons. The harnessing of the power of steam, the exponential
leap in speed of travel on land and sea, the terrific visual effect
of furnace and boiler - instead of treating these as despoilers and
desecrators of the beauty of nature, Turner celebrated them with
unparalleled experiment, extending the possibility of what can be
done by oils on canvas.
Some of the claims seemed
to me excessive - surely The Fighting Temeraire is
essentially elegiac rather than a paean to the efficacy of steam
tugs - yet, overall, I was persuaded. Turner showed the world a new
source of the sublime not in the glories of nature, but in human
More revisionism was
occasioned by Rupert Murdoch: Battle with Britain (BBC2,
Sunday). Murdoch has been a convenient demon king, singlehandedly
coarsening and cheapening Britain's public discourse, pandering to
the least discerning audience, and accumulating unchecked power and
But the thesis of this
film suggested otherwise: despite the brashness and populism,
Murdoch did have a sort of admirable moral purpose - to cut through
what he saw as the cosy, hypocritical, old-boy network of British
public life, to take seriously what ordinary people wanted, and
give it to them.
It all went wrong when he
allowed successive Prime Ministers to cosy up to him, desperate to
win his favour - and Tony Blair was more guilty of this than Lady
Thatcher ever was - so that News International became thoroughly
entwined with the Establishment that Murdoch thought he was
attacking. The intimacy with politicians and police encouraged his
operatives to feel above the law.
To my surprise, the story felt close to a classic tragedy: a
fatal flaw played out, ambition leading first to overwhelming
success, then humiliating defeat.