IT WAS mean of BBC1 to choose the Sunday of the Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity to launch The Musketeers; for
Alexandre Dumas's Gallic anti-clericalism reinforces visceral
Anglo-Saxon Protestant prejudice to find in Cardinal Richelieu
every conviction of how Roman Catholics really behave, if only they
have the power to do so.
Here is the lust for power, the ruthless ambition, the
hypocritical sensuality, the immediate recourse to torture and
murder to achieve desired aims - everything that justifies the
Reformation and strengthens our resolve to remain separate from
such Continental monstrosities, secure in our virtue.
But I suspect that few of the audience will draw such a serious
conclusion; for this is more of a costume romp than profound drama,
building on the original history-lite novel to produce
entertainment rather than a considered analysis of the
socio-political complexities of 17th-century Europe.
The production belongs to a developing genre in which
sumptuously accurate costumes, authentic sets, and the highest
production values are allied to a consciously contemporary script.
It is all done extremely well.
But the conventions of the plot mean that, for me at least, it
is all rather unengaging. We know that, whatever the odds, our
gallant musketeers will overcome vast numbers of their enemies.
However hopeless the situation, some far-fetched circumstance will
enable them to live to fight another day. It is entertaining, but I
soon found that I hardly cared one way or the other about their
Will another generation take up the challenge of continuing a
life of service, maintaining its place as central to the life of an
English community? Surprisingly, this was not a documentary that
analysed whether, despite Lord Carey's gloomy prognostications, the
Church of England has any hope of living to fight another day.
Hidden Histories: Britain's oldest family businesses
(BBC4, Wednesday of last week) was the first in a series that did
exactly what it says on the tin: tracing the history of a few of
our handful of commercial concerns that have weathered the
centuries and are still trading.
Balstons Family Butchers, of Bridport, proved a worthy opener,
the oldest such concern in the country. Richard, the current
Balston, was a compelling ambassador of the value of his trade,
convinced that most of the world's ills would evaporate if only we
all ate more meat. The programme traced the history, and provided a
little social context, besides presenting the current activity and
likely future of the concern.
A visit to the County Record Office unearthed the document on
which the claim to longevity rests: the 1535 lease granting a stall
in the Shambles to a Balston, 20 generations ago. Then the
archivist achieved a splendid on-camera coup: she revealed a
similar document confirming that the Balstons had, in fact, traded
there since 1515, 20 years previously.
Mr Balston greeted this just as he should: with delight that his
family claim had even greater kudos, and pleasure that only one
digit needed alteration, meaning that he could change the firm's
carrier bags at minimal expense.