CHRISTIANITY having not a little to do with the very existence of the festival, it is hardly unreasonable to enquire how the Church was portrayed in this year’s Christmas TV. A royalty ought to be paid to Churches Together by the Writers’ Guild for furnishing them with a ready-made source of malevolence and repression.
If your drama needs a dark force against which your hero(ine) can appear by contrast to be the embodiment of grace and enlightenment, then Christian churches — and, in particular, their ministers — will do very nicely, saving authors the bother of proper research and imaginative engagement with the standards and expectations of times and places other than our own.
The Miniaturist (BBC1, 26 and 27 December) was an excellent and stylish example of this trend. The dark secret blighting the 1686 Amsterdam household that the beautiful Nella enters as a young bride is that her husband is (actively) homosexual. Of course, the Church seeks to root out and punish all those who thus overstep the boundaries of righteousness; Nella and his family are beacons of tolerance and understanding. If you are willing to overlook all this anachronistic hokum, however, it is a terrific drama.
The doll’s-house furniture and fittings made by the Miniaturist herself were, in particular, creations of quite extraordinary delight.
Possibly we might not be meant to take the Christian minister as portrayed in The League of Gentlemen (BBC2, 18, 19, 20 December) quite so seriously. Nearly 20 years after the original series depicting the unparalleled horrors of life in Royston Vasey, the team return to cross-dress their way through an embodiment of every nightmare you ever suffered, and provide you with new ones.
The Vicar, Bernice Woodall, is now the Mayor, and an extra frisson is milked by the contrast between her foul language and the expectations of gentle goodness suggested by her clerical collar. But I suspect that, amid the gleeful overstepping of every boundary of acceptable good taste, she is not supposed to represent a sustained critique of the behaviour of the average C of E cleric.
Oddly, if a serious purpose is to be disinterred from the debris, it is a savage blast against the folly of Brexit, the maniacal mantra of “a local shop for local people” now having taken on a sinister resonance unimagined by the original series.
There were less critical views of our faith to be enjoyed — as long as you went abroad. Alinka Echeverria’s three-part series The Art That Made Mexico: Paradise, power and prayers (BBC4, 18 December) concluded by exploring the essential part played by religion and faith — as much today as in the past.
The Conquistadores, attempting to save the souls of their captive people as well as steal their gold, did everything in their power to extirpate every trace of the pagan beliefs: but, over time, a more generous, syncretistic fusion has produced a rapprochement whereby both art and ritual combine key characteristics of both faith systems.