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King’s departure

01 May 2015


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 waters.

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 Rebuttal Unit.

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