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Real-life betrayal

06 May 2016

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“THIS is God’s gift; it would be wrong to refuse it.” A generally admirable sentiment, but hardly when offered as theological justification for an act of adultery. ITV’s new drama series The Secret (Friday) presents a more convincing mixture of sex and religion than is usually served up — perhaps because it is based on actual events.

Set in Coleraine in 1990, the characters are committed members of a Baptist church: Colin, a dentist, is the charismatic and (my wife assures me) handsome leader of worship songs; Hazel, a policeman’s wife. They may lead the children in singing on the church minibus, but the trip to the swimming pool leads to an inappropriately intimate demonstration of the front crawl, an intimacy compounded by the first guitar lesson. The erotic charge of their mutual attraction was tangible.

Their faithful spouses and children bear the brunt of the infidelity, and the attempt to reconcile is brilliantly portrayed. The pastor is admirably direct, visiting each guilty party and presiding over the moment of revelation to the innocent. They are all debarred from communion.

But he is too trusting, too unwilling to acknowledge the power of their sexual attraction — and, perhaps, love — because, despite the confessions and handshakes of forgiveness, and despite being welcomed back into the fold, the couple cannot keep their hands off each other.

As the first episode ends, Colin is proposing that the only way he and Hazel can be together is to murder their partners; in the only jarring note, Hazel, instead of reacting with horror, responds with fears that they would surely be caught.

This aside, it is a chillingly realistic account of how people destroy each other’s lives, and how genuine faith is no inoculation against the temptations of the flesh. This is TV drama for grown-ups, and might usefully be shown in all theological colleges.

BBC1 marked the Passover with Never Again: Fear and faith in Paris (Tuesday of last week), an account of the rise in the numbers of French Jews who are leaving the country, no longer feeling safe in a land whose wounds of Second World War collaboration with the Holocaust are not yet healed, and where, since 2012, eight of them have been murdered on account of their religion.

Not all go to Israel: many come to the UK, and we heard warming testimony that the UK is a country where Jews can feel safe. But anti-Semitism is on the rise here, fomented much less nowadays by the far Right and far more by Islamic extremists. Does our multi-culturalism provide, for all its failings, a more secure and cohesive society than France’s fabled laïcité?

We saw Bradford schoolchildren visiting a Hindu temple, and met the Muslim donor who rebuilt the roof of the last surviving synagogue. This topic could not be more important at a time when we are making crucial decisions about the kind of country we want to be, and what our relationship with others should be. And yet, overall, the programme felt, I am sorry to say, worthy and muted rather than urgent and engaging.

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