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TV review: Grayson Perry: Rites of Passage, Strangers, and Trust

21 September 2018


Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry

IF HE is free, snap him up immediately to organise your next confirmation. Last Thursday’s final Grayson Perry: Rites of passage (Channel 4) demonstrated this artist’s extraordinary ability to engage with people and encourage them to create for themselves far beyond anything they considered possible.

He believes that our culture’s abandonment of shared ritual diminishes us and isolates us, and he is determined to find the most appropriate way to mark the great turning points of life. Superficially, one might imagine that this hulking great potter, best-known for cross-dressing, is so mixed up himself as to be in no position to help anyone else sort themselves out, but Perry is far subtler, wiser, and perceptive than this dismissal.

His own complexities seem to give him a remarkable breadth of sympathy and empathy, making him unusually unchallenging, and so able to win confidence. After looking at death, birth, and marriage, he focused on coming-of-age, which he believes might take place not just at the traditional puberty-adulthood boundary, but at any climacteric moment of change in someone’s life.

Indeed, he argued that the contemporary obsessions with video games and social media combine to encourage people to remain adolescent and never take on adult responsibility. He helped the members of Lewisham’s Young Women’s Hub make a video of themselves, to confound and confront the crippling damage so many of them have faced from social media. In Halifax, a group of addicts in recovery found the self-confidence to mount a ritual (in a non-denominational church) where they presented to family and friends just who they were, what they had fallen into, and how determined they were to change.

We saw two moving events that clearly transformed the lives of the participants. Perry’s convictions, of course, chime entirely with ours: just a short course on the sacraments is needed before he assumes chairmanship of the Liturgical Commission.

We are in a remarkable few weeks of new high-quality drama series. TV executives have clearly decided that this is the way that they are going to make money, or make reputations, or attract stars. Marvellous acting, decent scripts, and splendid production values: all treat us as adults. Many are crime thrillers, but the psychology and interaction of the characters are even more compelling than the actual plots.

I commend Strangers (ITV, Mondays): in a corking first episode, a British academic is summoned to Hong Kong after the death of his beloved wife in a car crash, only to discover that she had another family there all along. In the closing frame, learns that she was murdered.

Trust (BBC2, Wednesdays) is a fantastic docu-drama about the kidnapping of the heir to the Getty dynasty: a brilliant morality tale warning against the lure of riches, yet grimly fascinating. Who in their right mind would want to live like that? Well, actually. . .

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