TU ES PETRUS: certainly in stone, but crowning apogee
rather than sure foundation, St Peter once again blesses his city
from above the great east window, now approaching its complete
The carving of this huge new statue, replacing a worn original,
was, for me, the most moving element of The Minster (BBC2,
Friday of last week), the series that follows a year in the life of
York's cathedral. This is a behind-the-scenes narrative, focusing
on the small army of vergers, cleaners, craftsmen, and musicians
that is necessary to underpin the exceptional standard of liturgy,
conservation, and maintenance that visitors now take for
We get to know them as real people, to appreciate that they are
at once ordinary and extraordinary: bearing the weight of caring
for this glorious church, and conscious of their place within
unbroken centuries of tradition, which they inherit and, in turn,
must pass on.
It is not the most acute analysis of cathedral ministry; it
offers more an affectionate and cheerful account. There is no
challenge to the Minster's own view of itself.
No one could love the place more than I do, and yet a little
astringency would have made a more compelling programme. Among all
the delights of image and scene there are some unfortunate lapses:
while celebrating the work of the new girls' choir, it won't do to
say that they are preparing to present evensong - they are singing
it (it is worship, not a concert); and it really is not good enough
to say, when introducing them, that "There's also a boys' choir,"
when boys have led Minster worship since the days of Alcuin; worst
of all, in a programme dedicated to a place built on a daily round
of splendid music, is the muzak that undercuts the whole
How fast can you wreck your God-given talent? We saw a thorough
attempt in Dylan Thomas: A poet in New York (BBC2,
Sunday), a dramatisation of his sordid final weeks. It was a
remarkable tour-de-force of acting - not just by Tom Hollander in
the title role, but especially Phoebe Fox as Caitlin .
The narrative is familiar: Thomas, determined to drink himself
to death, behaves cruelly to those who love him and seek to save
him; he betrays his wife, lover, and friends, wilfully exacerbates
his deteriorating health, and relies on his egocentric boyish charm
to effect reconciliation after reconciliation.
It is a standard romantic view of what happens when too much
talent is curdled by too little self-discipline; but I am sure that
I have heard another view altogether: that the boozing and
womanising was all a bit of an act to fool the gullible English,
and that he was, in fact, a consummate professional who never
missed a deadline; and his death was a preventable travesty of
I enjoyed the film, but the writer Andrew Davies's treatment
chosea path just a little too obvious,and its glorious technicolor
flashbacks to his childhood, with dark undertones of how much
bullying he endured, employed rather too many stock-in-trades of
the genre. It was moving, but offered no revelation.
Perhaps we are jaded; but because of the excellent standard of
British TV biopics, we now expect something new and striking.