I BLAME the Bishop. In a scenario unfamiliar to our episcopal
bench, it seems as though the political future of Denmark is about
to be sealed by the rhetoric of a theologian and father-in-God:
1864 (Saturdays) is BBC4's latest Continental
Watching these series has, of course, a serious educational
value, transforming those of us who care about it into better
Europeans. I think of them as superior language courses. The
various Nordic noirs have introduced us to Swedish and
Norwegian; Spiral enhances our French; even
Montalbano helps prepare us for our next trip to Palermo.
My Danish will have improved no end by the time that 1864
completes its exposition of an episode crucial to the recent
history of that nation: the Schleswig-Holstein question.
Bishop Monrad is a nationalist, convinced that Denmark has a
divinely given right to rule the territory in question. The
political manoeuvrings seem, with our knowledge of the First World
War, like children sleepwalking. But all this is the context for
the heart of the piece, which is a love story, owing more to
popular romantic conventions than art novel.
The girls are gorgeous, the boys are handsome, the plot presents
over-neat pairings, and the contemporary framework through which
the historical events are perceived is the fairytale set-up of a
(pierced and druggy, to make it modern) poor girl's winning the
friendship of a curmudgeonly invalid - who happens to be a baron.
But, as a retelling of the eternal theme of the pity of war, it is
York Minster as you have never seen it filled our screens on
Sunday night in BBC1's first episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr
Norrell. I have not read Susanna Clarke's novel; so I cannot
tell how faithful this version of her fantasy about two magicians'
redirecting the course of 19th-century British history is. The
first spell cast was a spectacular bringing to life of the
Having written a research paper on the subject of the great
choir screen, I was bowled over by how brilliantly the line of
kings moved and conversed. It was done not just with technical
wizardry, but genuine wit. The second spell was a resurrection - of
a recently dead young woman - but this required a pact with a
devil-figure, which will no doubt cast its shadow over the
The whole thing is bunkum, but it is done with superb conviction
and period feeling - except, as always, when it comes to the
Church. Why does painstaking research stop short at religion? In
1805, clergy neither wore stoles nor started prayers with "The Lord
be with you." But, even with such solecisms, it is good TV
Rory Bremner's Election Report (BBC2, Wednesday
of last week) had a slightly strained air, reflecting that even
satire is sometimes overwhelmed by the unexpected. The rout of Lib
Dems and Labour, the failure of UKIP to make its breakthrough, the
absolute Tory majority - all these provide so unforeseen a
political map as to leave comedy behind.
The many key exits from the political stage gave Bremner a
series of farewell performances for now redundant impressions.