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
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
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
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?