Jewels in the crown

19 January 2018

BBC/Atlantic Productions/© Royal Collection Trust/ Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

I SUPPOSE that BBC1 has achieved the greatest possible TV scoop in encouraging the Queen to star in The Coronation (Sunday). They managed to convey King Edward’s Crown and the Imperial State Crown from the fastness of the Tower and present them to Her Majesty, together with archive film, prompting her recollec­tions of what it was like to be crowned.

The art and science of liturgy is all about getting the right person to say the right words at the right place at the right time with the right kit; but nothing comes close to the 1953 coronation, and the pro­gramme gave a glimpse of the com­plexity and meaning of our national sacrament. But there were also appalling failures.

No mention was made of the central matter: that this is a eucharist with, at its heart, a communion; that the bling and glitter takes its place within the remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus; that the earthly kingship being created is set entirely within the kingship of Christ.

Archbishop Fisher produced a book of devotions for the young Queen to help her prepare for the rite, but such matters were not touched
on, presumably lest they undermine viewers’ secular amazement at the close-up examination of the regalia. But the jewel in the crown of this programme was the monarch herself — by turns laconic, forthcoming, and smiling with delight.

A different monarchy was placed in the spotlight in House of Saud: A family at war (BBC2, Tues­day of last week). The first of a three-part documentary about the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, it is no less than an account of Middle Eastern Islam and its worldwide effects in our times.

We all know that the stupendous wealth of the oil fields has supported the propagation of hard-line Saudi Wahhabi Islam, suppressing every local manifestation of that faith that it considers impure and compromised; and that this is no mere theological squabble, but one carried forward by terrorism and bloody war. This programme delved deeper, however: it followed up leads to prove how directly Saudi royal control directs the money into warmongers’ pockets.

The situation has become more and more confused: some of the terrorists are now attacking Saudi Arabia, con­sidering that it, too, corrupts the faith and must be cleansed. And the pro­gramme has a particularly dynamic edge: the Crown Prince’s coup, late last year, has the explicit aim of re­­turn­ing to a moderate and open Islam. But will it succeed?

A whiff of absolute monarchy wreathed around My Astonishing Self: Gabriel Byrne on George Bernard Shaw (BBC4, Monday of last week). Newsreels and home-movie foot­­­age presented the great man him­self, and I was struck by how he con­sidered his work to be the equal of Shakespeare’s.

For all its fascinating portrayal of such a significant figure, Byrne achieved the curious distinction of creating an hour’s documentary that was consistently dour and sombre.

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