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True-life stories

31 May 2013

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BIRTH, sex, and death in Northern Ireland received neat parallel TV exposure last week: Love and Death in City Hall (BBC4, Tuesday of last week) followed the work of the register office at Belfast City Hall.

There were the oddities (unsurprising to those of us whose profession is to proclaim the presence of God at exactly the same milestones), such as the mother and daughter who both wanted to register the baby daughters born within a few of days of each other; the elderly pair whose delight at their late mar- riage transformed appearances that would have won few prizes at a beauty contest.

The film followed up the stories: most movingly, the widower standing in the sodden graveyard talking to his wife by her grave, a few paces from that of his son. Being Ireland, Christian faith was far more in evidence than we would expect nowadays on the mainland; perhaps that would account for how easily the supplicants told their stories to the official functionaries, and how easily the registrars told theirs to the camera.

The same city acts as more-than-backdrop to The Fall (BBC2, Mondays), the new crime thriller. It is dark and fiercely intelligent, with strong characters and performances. The serial killer is a grief counsellor and loving father by day, and a murderous pervert by night; his wife is a devoted nurse. The cop is gorgeous, sexually voracious, and ice-cold, none of which dims her superhuman powers of observation. But there is something too relenting about this conjunction of brutality and ordinary life: the killer's tender washing of his daughter's hair paralleled with the autopsy of his latest victim's body. The murders' sexual perversion edges the drama towards a work of pornography.

How good to see the Archbishop of Canterbury play an expert part in Bankers (BBC2, Wednesdays), a series that documents what has gone wrong with our financial institutions. The Big Bang deregulation encouraged high-street banks to see their customers as a source to be milked.

We heard much contrition, but not much to reassure us of a return to the good old days of probity - except the jaw-dropping estimate of £25-billion compensation to the clients whom the banks mis-sold worthless insurance.

The most surprising thing about Henry VIII's Enforcer: The rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell (BBC2, Friday), Diarmaid MacCulloch's splendid account of Cromwell's career, was that it made no reference to Hilary Mantel's.

Professor MacCulloch persuaded us that Cromwell's despoiling of the monasteries was inspired by the determination that everyone should see the ruins of false religion, so that clear Bible truth could shine out. He encouraged English translations of the scriptures when this was a capital offence. New to me was the claim that Cromwell could be hailed as being responsible for the birth of parliamentary democracy: it was Parliament that decreed that the Pope had no jurisdiction in our realm. This set us on the road a parliament independent of the monarchy, which required its endorsement.

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