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Daring to speak

24 April 2015


KILL the Christians (BBC2, Wednesday of last week) decided that its subject-matter was too stark to benefit from a watered-down title; and I will accord it the same respect by eschewing, for once, a generalising scene-setting sentence or two to open my review.

This was a sober and sobering account of the decimation of Christianity in its ancient heartland. Jane Corbin's admirable programme was not a socio-historic-aesthetic lament at the loss of treasured heritage: it treated the faith and practice of Christians in Syria facing the deadly onslaught of IS as something entirely real.

We saw worship in ancient monasteries, churches, and refugee camps - worship not seen as some quaint survival, but considered as worthy of respect as pastoral care for refugees and orphans. One crucial setting was St Matthew's monastery, a pilgrimage centre for Christians whose liturgy still preserves Jesus's own language, Aramaic. It lies on the very front line of the fighting; so hardly any pilgrims dare now to make the ascent. The Muslim Kurdish army commander whose men are struggling to keep IS at bay spoke of their determination to protect the Christians - his brothers as he called them - to rebuild peaceful co-existence.

We were not allowed to forget that the jihadists have murdered far more fellow-Muslims than Christians; but there is a particular irony in Western governments' reluctance to name the destruction of Christianity for the crime against humanity it surely is.

Here, for once, Christian priests, Orthodox and Catholic, were treated as heroes for their deter-mination to serve and save their people. For some clergy, the only hope remaining for the survival of their communities and traditions of worship and belief is to leave behind their ancient homelands and seek refuge elsewhere. Nadine, who is 13, and whose intelligence and piety shone out, was given the last word: a prayer for peace.

We have seen four of the new series of Inside No. 9 (BBC2, Thursdays), Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's extraordinary 30-minute black comedies. I think they are even better than the first bunch - an amazing feat of sustained imagination, as each inhabits a world completely different from any of the others'.

The horrific possibilities of a night journey in a Continental couchette; a spoof Witchfinder Generaldrama; and a humdrum life told in flashback scenes have each employed contrasting styles and production genres. Last week's Cold Comfort was a technical tour de force, where all we saw was footage from fixed DVD cameras monitoring the working of a Samaritan-like call centre.

There was a main picture, plus three smaller images to the side of the screen, like a sideways predella in a medieval altar-painting. The point of this became clear only in the final moments, as the true ghastliness playing out under the guise of generous help for neighbours in distress was revealed. We realised we'd had all the clues throughout, and should have put two and two together.

This is TV to relish, playing games with us, a grinning skull mocking and teasing our expectations and preconceptions.

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