Not hate, but faith

03 February 2017

BBC/IWC MEDIA/GETTY IMAGES/ULF ANDERSON

Flesh and blood: Francis Bacon: A brush with violence (BBC2) shows how the artist faced the hard stuff of Christianity

Flesh and blood: Francis Bacon: A brush with violence (BBC2) shows how the artist faced the hard stuff of Christianity

“ALMOST a religious painter” might seem the most unlikely trib­ute to pay to the subject of Francis Bacon: A brush with violence (BBC2, Saturday), given his deliberate im­­mer­sion in a world of excess, his drinking, his promiscuity, his eagerness to inflict pain and (even more keenly) have it inflicted upon him­, and his production of picture after picture that, instead of hiding such proclivities, displayed them to the public as open wounds; and yet, shockingly, I think that it is true.

The images are flayed and vis­ceral, but their agony is that of a shriek de profundis. Not only is this a legitimate religious position: he was also drawn again and again to explicitly religious subjects: the scream­ing popes and the creatures at the foot of the cross, which can be, and were, dismissed as wilful expressions of hatred for Christianity.

But it makes more sense to see this continual return to Christian imagery as a profound engagement with, and deconstruction of, the impulse to faith which comes not from inside ourselves but is rather a response to the God who will not let us go.

Bacon brings us face to face with the hard stuff of Christianity: incarnation, flesh and blood naked on the canvas, sacrifice, mystery. This fine documentary told Bacon’s story through personal remin­iscences, a life scarcely believ­able in its combination of sordid, criminal depths and extraordinary creativity.

Unforgotten (ITV, Thursdays) is a superior crime drama. It is the second series for Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s brilliant depiction of London detectives’ exploring cold cases.

A decomposed body found in a suitcase turns out to be that of a Conservative Party consultant who went missing in 1970. Four episodes in, it is now clear that, unknown to his wife, he was a paedophile, abusing his posi­tion to gain access to vulnerable children.

The widening circle of people who had every reason to want to kill him now includes links to the IRA — a web of connection fuelled by anger, guilt, and shame. What I find so powerful are the char­acters and their relation­ships, and, above all, the corrosive effects of uncovering old, hidden truths. The plot never loses sight of how thoroughly we can hurt each other and be hurt, and of the fragility of family bonds.

ITV has been offering us a real-life morality tale, Tina and Bobby (ITV, Fridays), which depicts the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of Bobby Moore, the foot­baller, as told by his widow, Tina. The particular pleasure for some of us has been to observe the meticu­lous recreation of 1960s and ’70s styles and manners.

An Essex working-class couple, his sporting ability raised them to a level of celebrity never previously witnessed. The downfall, shown in last week’s final episode, indicated that Tina was the stronger of the two, holding on to values that enabled her to survive the pressure of living an entirely public life.

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