ALL about God? Again and again the Almighty was invoked as the
inspiration behind the protagonists' actions and attitudes. The
Last Days of Charles I (Channel 5, Thursday of last week) kept
making the point that the King's faith was as central to his
conception of his duty and his rights as was Oliver Cromwell's.
This was one of a series of documentaries about historic
assassinations or executions that racks up the tension by means of
a countdown to the moment of death: the end is never in doubt, but
a series of commentators, and low-budget re-enactments help us to
consider the issues.
It is a reasonable idea, but, here at least, not carried out
properly. The experts seem to vary in their stature, and are
clearly partisan, yet they never debate with each other; so we have
a series of opposing interpretations that do not receive critical
scrutiny. The narrator should choose his terms far more carefully:
he kept talking about the necessity of the King's having to face
justice, while some of his experts were trying to underline how
difficult it was to know what justice might be in such uncharted
And although God was constantly brought into the argument, no
proper attention was paid to the complexity of 17th-century belief:
either the wide range of Calvinistic theologies held by Cromwell's
New Model Army, or the centrality of Charles's sacramental faith.
He was not just chosen by God, he had received a divine charism. We
saw no execution-morning communion. There was mention of God, but
no actual religion.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Pope and cardinals were collecting Greek
sculptures, providing for their own sculptors a newly heightened
emotional expression that would provide the counter-Reformation
with its artistic tone. From now on, human perfection and extreme
ecstasy would denote saints' and prophets' fervour.
In the final episode of Treasures of Ancient Greece
(BBC4, Wednesday of last week), Alastair Sooke considered the
afterlife of Greek art, and the defining part it has played for two
millennia of Western culture. There was much here to applaud, but,
for me, it was undercut by Sooke's over-deliberate delivery. I
think, too, that he undervalues the emotional intensity of
northern-European medieval Christian art.
If you consider that our current General Election campaign
deserves less than wholehearted respect, you will probably find
Ballot Monkeys (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) a source
of hilarity. This new series employs last-minute scriptwriting, so
that the latest real-life gaffe can be incorporated.
Four "battle buses" - one each for Tories, Labour, LibDems, and
UKIP - provide a neat self-contained structure for a quick-fire
series of gags that leave no cliché unexploited. The campaign
managers are hopeless, but the candidates whom they seek to rein in
are next-level incompetent.
It is a fine satire on contemporary PR and media would-be
manipulation, introducing me toa new concept that could valuably be
adopted at many different levels of church structure: the Rapid