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Hope amid the hate

08 August 2014


CHILDREN OF SYRIA (BBC2, Monday of last week) brought to our comfortable living rooms the reality of war - not a century ago, but today, now. The BBC's Lyse Doucet produced a most powerful documentary: personal, direct, and involving. This was no objective overview; at one point, she stretched out to touch and hold one of the children in distress.

It seemed that, in her work of analysing the political struggle, she had come to know these individual children, and was compelled to return to the war zone to discover what had happened to them. Over the hour, we also got to know Jalal, Daad, and Kifar as real people, brought up in what Doucet described as "a war on childhood".

We met some children who supported the government, and some who despised President Assad and longed for the success of the revolution. The extent to which they shared their parents' convictions, and revered their relatives "martyred" on one side or the other,was striking. Although some looked forward to being old enough to fight, the stronger message was of those whose education and dreams were wrecked.

If, however, the overall picture was of unmitigated tragedy, of the limitless extent of mankind's folly and aggression, of how effective we are at teaching children to hate, it was also a celebration of our capacity for hope and joy: these delightful children found cause and opportunity, however tiny or fleeting, for delight. Perhaps the subjects chosen were exceptional; perhaps the programme helped us to see how exceptional are children chosen at random.

Avoiding civil war was one ofthe central themes of The Stuarts (BBC2, Wednesday of last week). Dr Clare Jackson took an unfamiliar line: she presented James VI and I not to underline his vanity, or his fondness for male courtiers, but as a wise and far-sighted monarch, a philosopher king not far short of his own ambition.

His peaceful succession was nothing like as obvious as it seems in hindsight. Religion played, as it must, a central part in the story, and James skilfully supported his Protestant national Church while seeking to enlarge its sympathies. It is poignant in the perspective of today's potential rupture that he proposed to his first Parliament a uniting of the kingdoms, the creation of a Great Britain long before the Act of Union; the English Parliament refused to comply.

Charles I had none of his father's toleration, learning his love of absolute monarchy during his sojourn at the court of Philip of Spain, where he was seeking the Infanta's hand in marriage. Jack-son is the TV historian we want: measured, unafraid of complex ideas and technical language, treating us as intelligent.

"Today, the hand of God has been replaced by the insights of science." Apart from this egregiously false dichotomy, there was much to appreciate in Dr Lucie Green's Killer Storms and Cruel Winters: The history of extreme weather (BBC4, Monday of last week), as she reminded us of cataclysms visited on our islands over the centuries. Tempest, flood, ice, heatwave, loss of life - none of these are new. What she did not address was the overall pattern: are such events significantly growing in frequency?

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