WINNING the lottery brought an explosion of joy: his face suffused with happiness at what lay ahead, his friends and comrades crowding round, their congratulations clearly genuine — this was something that brought pleasure to the whole company. But the prize was not a rollover Euromillions jackpot: the lucky man had been chosen to drive an armoured truck into enemy territory, and blow as many as possible of the infidel to smithereens alongside himself.
This IS recruiting clip was shown in Army: Behind the new frontlines (BBC2, Wednesday of last week) to demonstrate the kind of foe that our lads are up against. Not that our lads are fighting: rather, they are acting as “guardian angels” to Iraqi government forces, training and advising.
The rhetoric was impressive: they were learning from the mistakes of the last Iraqi conflict, aware that the hard work lies not in the military liberation but rather in what happens thereafter, not treating their charges as second-class human beings. Any one of the local troops whom they are training could be a terrorist, about to turn a weapon on the hated kafir.
The situation has, of course, moved on since the filming: with military victory has come the greater complexity of the coalition’s fighting itself, and the newly trained government forces’ turning on their erstwhile Kurdish partners. So it felt less immediately current than had no doubt been intended.
Our own religious dark ages are gruesomely on display in Gunpowder, BBC1’s new Saturday-night costume drama that recounts the story behind Bonfire Night. The hero is brooding Robert Catesby; the villain is the diabolical spymaster Robert Cecil. James I and VI is eager to extend toleration to his Roman Catholic subjects, but is outmanoeuvred by those for whom every recusant is plotting seditious rebellion.
Sympathy lies clearly with the persecuted RCs: the unbearable suspense when your house is torn apart in the search for a priest after a clandestine mass is matched only by the despicable horrors of recusants’ being pressed to death, or hanged, drawn, and quartered. We get some sense of the inextricability of religious faith and political allegiance, but a reminder of the Pope’s excommunication of Elizabeth I would have produced a more balanced context.
The burning of heretics — by both sides — was shown, mercifully, by a woodcut in Lucy Worsley: Elizabeth I’s battle for God’s music (BBC4, Tuesday of last week): the kind of programme we never expect to find on TV — to wit, extended praise for something done by the Church of England.
She explored the paradox that Elizabeth championed Protestantism while insisting that the complex, professional church music that she loved was not, as her bishops demanded, outlawed. The progression through Reformation to Tallis, Merbecke, and Byrd was lovingly explained and demonstrated: let’s hope that that revival starts here.