*** DEBUG END ***

Surprisingly good

20 January 2017


WE HAVE all conducted a service where a member of the congregation was so convinced that they could make a better job than the hapless priest that they carry on a rival liturgy.

In the first episode of BBC1’s new period thriller Taboo (Saturdays), the scandalous alternate to the BCP Burial of the Dead appeared to be a shamanistic rite, complete with actions, performed by the son of the deceased. This heir has turned up as if from the dead (with whom he seems to have effective lines of communication) just in time to interrupt the obsequies — and to disrupt the smooth running of mercantile London.

The year is 1814. Britain’s pre-eminent place in the world is not as clear as we might think, and settlement with the recently separated United States is not yet resolved. Layers of family mystery and rivalry are all enfolded in a fog of corruption.

This is the kind of over-clever quasi-supernatural drama that I usually find indigestible; but, two episodes in, this one is terrific. The heightened awfulness of most of the characters, the irredeemable ruthlessness of their financial rivalry, the easy recourse to violence and threat — all are served with a script, direction, and design of such quality as to overcome the preposterous plot. And the acting is mesmeric, wholly believable in its conviction. Together, they have managed to tap into a mythic realm: compelling, visceral, disturbing, and wild.

ITV’s latest costume drama The Halcyon (Mondays) unfortunately suffers by comparison. A grand London hotel in the first year of the Second World War, with its aristocratic and privileged glamour about to be swept away by the Blitz is the setting for a dynastic struggle and an upstairs/downstairs star-crossed love affair.

The mix here — predictable subplots about appeasement, Nazi sympathy, Jewish immigrants — is not inherently more unreal than Taboo’s, but it has already, by the second episode, degenerated into standard romance tropes only a few degrees above soap opera. It is perfectly watchable, but essentially forgettable, unlike its comparator, which lodges uncomfortably in the imagination.

Our Dancing Town (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) is the latest reality documentary account of personal transformation and community building by means of shared artistic endeavour. Could the choreographer Steve Elias persuade the people of Barnsley to get out into the street and create, in four weeks, a dance spectacular celebrating their history?

The recent history, as we were constantly reminded, is that of industrial and economic collapse stemming from the end of coal mining. Could ex-miners appear together with policemen (here memories and long, and bitter)? Would local Morris men find anything in common with northern-soul aficionados and Nick from the chip shop?

Elias, a self-confessed working-class lad himself, is a force of nature: patient, challenging, and supportive. It was, of course, after weeks of setback and failure, a single-camera, continuous-take triumph, and all — if in a rather predictable way — very moving. He has got two other towns to galvanise, and then will combine them all in a pan-Yorkshire finale in front of the Minster.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)