"A READING from the Romans": the phrase has lodged like grit in
my shoe ever since I heard it. The BBC, quite rightly, trailed its
coverage of D-Day 70: The heroes return (Friday) as an
epochal moment in our shared world history - a time when looking
back to the past could redefine our present and inspire a better
Yet this incompetent introduction to the Prince of Wales's
reading shows how little has changed since the débâcle of its
broadcast of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee river pageant. The BBC is
still happy to field commentators who know so little of the Bible
that they do not know that the book in question is Paul's Letter to
the Romans; and, far worse - because I was watching the evening's
edited highlights - no one either noticed or cared enough to be
bothered to correct it later.
It is said that the general public's knowledge of even basic
Christian stuff is woefully inadequate; but our supposedly
pre-eminent national broadcaster should do better than this.
Normandy '44: The battle beyond D-Day (BBC2, Friday)
was a fascinating retelling of the campaign beyond the beachhead
landings. It was fascinating because of its self-conscious
revisionism. James Holland thinks that historians have got it
wrong: the British and Commonwealth troops were far more successful
in realising their targets than is accepted, and far more central
to the whole endeavour, not merely a sideshow to the US forces.
The Germans were not such brilliant strategists: their
insistence on responding to every defeat with a counter-attack
meant that the Allied advance slowly haemorrhaged two crack German
armies. Far more praise should be lavished on the Allies'
logistical superiority, and the speed with which they adopted new
tactics. The Channel was transformed into a highway, transporting
troops and material day and night, building up an inexorable weight
The documentary bridged the gap between its overview and
individual stories, giving faces to a few of the 6500 who were
killed each day of the campaign; but what left the strongest
impression was its clarity in showing us how a grand strategy was
worked out across the fields and cities of Normandy.
I've come late to Fargo (Channel 4, Sundays), and it is
an interesting exercise to try to make some sense of a fiendishly
complex plot from the eighth episode. But I am not sure that the
plot is the main thing - this retelling of a true crime story set
in snowbound North Dakota should be relished far more for its
bizarre tone, demonstrating its origin in the Coen brothers' movie
of the same name.
It is a delicious black comedy: shocking violence is undercut by
local incompetence and small-town inertia. Murder is laced with
farce. The police chief is woefully out of his depth.
A slew of US clichés are turned on their heads, the viewer
constantly wrong-footed in his or her expectation of how the story
and characters will play out. Acting, script, direction - all are
splendidly intelligent. Perhaps on repeated exposure the quirks and
oddities will become wearisome, but for now it offers a highly
satisfactory winding-down after the rigours of the Christian