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TV review: Collateral, An Island Parish, Troy, and From Ice to Fire

02 March 2018


“IT MEANS the world to me to talk to a priest.” This is the kind of ringing endorsement that we need from TV — although the young woman who uttered this sentiment ended the episode being thrown, badly beaten, from the door of a van; so the godly counsel did not do her much good.

This was the second episode of Collateral (BBC2, Monday of last week). The priest plays an important part, being in a same-sex relationship with an illegal immigrant who, high on drugs, witnessed the murder of the man delivering a pizza, with added drugs, to the former wife of the Labour MP who supports the priest’s work with the homeless.

The murder victim is also an illegal immigrant, his murderer no drug-gang thug but a female British-army assassin, suffering from trauma as a result of what happened to her in Afghanistan, and now the subject of sexual harassment by her superior officer; his sisters (keep up), now held in a privatised holding facility, with others, await deportation back to the countries from which they have fled.

If all this sounds as though the author, Sir David Hare, is trying to stir into his drama every possible liberal issue of the day, then I am afraid that you would be right: occasionally, there is a whiff of pure polemic in plotting or dialogue. But, that said, it is a terrific, convincing portrayal of the dark underbelly of today’s London — and perhaps the entire British body politic.

There was a more benign picture of the Church’s ministry in An Island Parish: After the hurricane (BBC2, Friday). The original series, last year, about life in Anguilla, was always rose-tinted, and this return after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma dwelt less on tragedy than on the resilience and faith that seeks to rise above the destruction. Irma had stripped a tiny sandbank, on which a couple had spent their entire life building a restaurant and beach-centre, back to bare sand; they are determined to rebuild, but only after the Rector had blessed each cardinal point with prayer and holy water.

If only this was the universal way of ensuring divine approval for a project. The most powerful sequence so far in Troy (BBC1, Saturdays), a glossy retelling of the Iliad, was Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter to appease the gods and ensure a fair wind for his war fleet on its way to bring back Helen.

The shock of this act echoes down the centuries: an emblem of human ambition, frailty, and powerlessness in the grip of malign fate. There are momentary grating lapses of dialogue, but, on the whole, it handles brilliantly the universal themes that make Homer as contemporary for us as, say, the Bible.

Some seek to prove that God created the universe by pointing to the extraordinary fine-tuning of our cosmos: a few degrees up or down, and the whole thing wouldn’t work — something particularly true of life on earth. If you want to develop this argument, then watch From Ice to Fire: The incredible science of temperature, in which the physicist Dr Helen Czerski brilliantly demonstrates that temperature lies at the heart of everything (BBC4, Thursdays).

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