Seeing parallels

17 February 2017

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THE Vicar was an ineffective failure — but, for once, it was in a way that we can all grimly acknowledge as authentic rather than dismiss as far-fetched buffoonery.

The series This Country (BBC1, Saturday) purports to be a docu­­ment­­ary about the reality of life in a Cotswold village. It focuses on Kur­tan and Kelly, hopeless lay­abouts from the wrong side of the tracks. The Vicar is doing his best with these lost sheep, spend­ing the past couple of years trying to get Kurtan to stop using the f-word so much.

The Vicar’s long-suffering smile when they swoop on him at the an­­nual scarecrow competition, telling the camera crew that they are his best friends, will have drawn a groan of recog­nition in vicarages the length and breadth of the kingdom.

A contrasting view of life on benefits is offered in The Moorside (BBC1, Tuesday of last week), a two-part docu-drama that retells the story of the faked abduction of Shannon Matthews in 2008. The first episode ended with Shannon’s being found — and the realisation that this might not have been the crime that every­one assumed it was.

Sheridan Smith was marvellous as the neighbour who had taken on the mantle of community activist, gal­vanising the estate into events to remind the world of Shannon’s dis­appearance. Her sense of being be­­trayed by those who planned the deceit will be shared by us: our desire to see authenticity in suffer­ing; our eagerness for downtrodden communities to find a voice — all our finer feelings will be trashed.

Terry Pratchett: Back in Black (BBC2, Saturday) was a remarkable documentary about the author of the Discworld novels — remarkable in its manner as Paul Kaye per­­formed an eerily accurate imper­sonation of Pratchett, speaking to us from beyond the grave.

Tellingly, Pratchett’s most pop­ular character is kindly Death; the books humorously accept mortality as central to life. His generosity to adoring readers was in parallel with his hatred of all authority.

A different but related fantasy world was on show in Opera North’s highly praised realisation of the first part of Wagner’s Ring (BBC4, Sunday). The orchestra is banked up behind the row of solo­ists, who rise from their seats as required and, with the simplest mime, indicate the action as they sing; and a projected light-show accompanies the drama.

It translated superbly to tele­vision; the complex narrative was entirely comprehensible and telling, in a way that fully staged versions so often are not. How could such a ghastly man as Wagner produce such a miracle of wisdom, so generous an account of all the basic elements of the human condition: greed, lust, hatred, and redeeming love?

This supernatural fable, depicting the corrosive desire for wealth and power, presented a contemporary commentary on the world today; high art about Norse gods and goddesses revealed to us the state that we are in.

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