IT IS curious, when you think about it, that the
Sovereign is awarded the Christmas Day TV message to the nation,
while the Primate gets the New Year address. Logically, for cultic
and social reasons, it would make more sense the other way
This year, you may not even have
realised that the Archbishop of Canterbury was accorded the
privilege of such a message: in my TV guide, the first broadcast
of his New Year Message (BBC1) was resolutely omitted, and some
digging around on iPlayer was needed to locate it. It appears to
have been buried within Jools' Annual Hootenanny - not, perhaps,
the most obvious place to look for it - at 12.45 a.m. It was
repeated later, however, at 4.25 p.m.
The crossover between the Queen and Archbishop Welby
extended this year into their material. As I reported last week,
Her Majesty gave us the most direct and powerful testimony to the
Christian faith that can be imagined, while His Grace spent far too
much of his allotted four minutes 30 seconds paying tribute to the
Armed Forces (of course, they deserve all praise - I am just
querying the balance and priority when so little time and space can
be found for our Archbishop directly to address the nation).
In Mapp and Lucia (BBC1, 29, 30, 31 January), E. F.
Benson produced his series of comic dissections of cultured
middle-class life in the 1920s and '30s, and Steve Pemberton's
adaptation captured exactly their depiction of snobbery,
pretension, and rivalry.
It is painting on a tiny scale: there are no children
to complicate matters, and none of the real disasters and tragedies
that generate the plots of most novels - not even that most basic
of fictive motors, love. And yet Miranda Richardson and Anna
Chancellor showed how lives devoid of such dramas can, in their
way, comprehend the deepest machinations of international
politics, the subterfuge of espionage, and the heights of triumph
and depths of defeat.
One noteworthy aspect of the books is their portrayal
of homosexuality: we are meant to recognise that two of the
leading characters have this orientation, and, daringly for the
period, it is recognised and tacitly accepted by everyone else. I
thought that this was handled well by the production, and was
simply and delicately presented as an unremarkable fact.
All the characters are more or less fakes; all
pretend to sophistication that they woefully lack; all jostle for
pre-eminence in a very small pond indeed. Yet we were drawn into
the comedy of manners, and appreciated Benson's - and Pemberton's
- achievement: within the general absurdity and moral malaise,
there are moments of reconciliation, acceptance, and forgiveness.
What, in fact, we call grace.
Perhaps the seasonal scheduling for another comedy of
manners enabled the engagement of an even more stratospheric cast -
Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench - in Roald Dahl's Esio Trot (BBC1,
New Year's Day). The hyper-reality of the screen image served,
unfortunately, to underline the essential thinness of the story,
but the electricity generated by the characters eventually
transcended all sense of improbability.