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Motive for murder

02 December 2016

BBC/© Miso Film 2015/Johan Paulin

Noir: in Modus, a BBC4 Scandanavian crime thriller, a bishop is brutally murdered after a Christmas Eve service

Noir: in Modus, a BBC4 Scandanavian crime thriller, a bishop is brutally murdered after a Christmas Eve service

SERIOUS Christian concerns appear to be more than mere window-dressing in the latest BBC4 Scandinavian crime-thriller, broadcast in double doses on Saturday evening to capsize that final rewriting of the morrow’s sermon.

In the first two episodes of Modus (BBC4, Saturday), we see a man brutally murder a woman bishop, immediately after her Christmas Eve service, and learn that the killer is inspired — possibly almost controlled, via video links — by an extreme puritanical sect in the United States.

This is his second murder. Because his first victim was a high-profile lesbian TV chef, and the bishop is a champion of same-sex partnerships, they are apparently linked by a hatred of liberal sexual attitudes. The murder has been observed by a child, but she is autistic. Her mother happens to be a criminal psychologist; so she will, of course, reluctantly, be drawn into the case by the handsome police inspector in charge; sooner or later, they will end up in bed together.

It seems predictably formulaic, and I think that, on serious analysis, it is. The problem with making religious intolerance the motive for murder is that such crime is, even today rare, and therefore, once the series is over, we can dismiss the contagion of the hatred — and yet that is real.

It does not portray a happy society. Every marriage has ended in divorce; basic relationships seem precarious in the extreme; the bishop’s husband exudes a miasma of depressive misery. It is all done brilliantly, and, against your will, it draws you in.

In a kind of pre-story to this drama, we saw Christians sailing off to the New World to found a godly commonwealth in The Mayflower (BBC2, Sunday). This revisionist account took as its central text Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, and made much of the fact that he barely mentions the event now celebrated annually as Thanksgiving Day.

A much reduced number had survived the first terrible winter; their simple thanksgiving was greatly magnified by several hundred natives’ turning up and bringing game to swell the feast. But it was not so much a hospitable coming together of neighbours celebrating God’s providence as two beleaguered groups (the Wampanoag Indians were at the mercy of other tribes) seeking mutual support. The compact with the natives did not last: a few years later, the village displayed on a pole a decapitated Indian head as a warning.

Biblical imagery abounded in Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II (BBC1, Sundays), which considered that locus of ritual purity the desert. We saw a plague of locusts, and we saw the miraculous greening that sudden rainfall brings to the most arid place.

But this glorious new series has a darker message: Sir David warns us again and again that the natural world is changing fast. Many of the species depicted now face extinction. The desert is expanding, swallowing up more and more hitherto productive land. Appropriate to Advent, this is a soberly apocalyptic account of our beautiful earth hastening to destruction.

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