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TV review:  Painting the Holy Land, Arena: Bob Dylan, and Kensington Palace

06 April 2018

BBC/Alan Peebles

Lachlan Goudie, of the BBC’s The Big Painting Challenge, presented Painting the Holy Land, on Good Friday and Easter Day

Lachlan Goudie, of the BBC’s The Big Painting Challenge, presented Painting the Holy Land, on Good Friday and Easter Day

BUT what did it really look like? BBC1’s main commission for the Sacred Triduum raised serious theological and devotional questions. In Painting the Holy Land (Good Friday and Easter Day), the Scottish artist Lachlan Goudie took us on a pilgrimage that sought to resolve a cocktail of personal concerns.

First, there was family piety. His father, although agnostic or atheist, had painted and drawn the Passion story again and again throughout his life, and the son was, as it were, making the journey on his behalf. More centrally, Lachlan Goudie had lived with the Gospel story through two conflicting lenses, both of which fell short of the depiction that he craved: his Illustrated Children’s Bible (whose battered copy he brought along, and whose blond, blue-eyed Jesus he contrasted with the figures whom he actually met) and great masters from the European Renaissance — and this is where I began to worry — whom he considered to exhibit a flaw.

They did not place the life of Jesus in a historically or geographically correct context: they presented the episodes in the garb and landscape of their own time and place — that is, 15th-century Florence, 16th-century Antwerp, and 17th-century Rome. As Goudie placed on his easel reproductions of their masterpieces next to the traditional locations of the scene depicted, they fell short, in his view, because the artists had never left home.

For him, it was essential to see what the Holy Land really looked like. He sought accuracy. Oddly, Holman Hunt, the one Western artist who immersed himself in the Palestine of his day, also failed: Goudie finds his canvases too super-heated.

What I missed was the realisation that the great masters knew exactly what they were doing. They placed the Passion and resurrection in their own time and place to make a profound theological point, that our salvation’s story is essentially incarnational, happening not in some distant time and place, but, to draw us in, here and now. Goudie is enthusiastic, engaging, compelling, but appears to seek a literalism that is, I believe, misplaced and, ultimately, fatal.

BBC4 marked Good Friday with a serious oddity: in Arena: Bob Dylan —Trouble No More we saw never-before footage of Dylan’s live performance from his two-year-long gospel phase, interspersed with a series of sermons, written by Luc Sante and delivered by the actor Michael Shannon.

The musical numbers showed Dylan as a generous ensemble performer, relishing, and ushering into the spotlight, the superlative band and backing group that he had gathered. Dylan apparently suggested the theme for each address, presented in the manner of an old-time preacher, essentially homespun, moralistic, and Protestant. I found a serious disjunction between music and word — but it added up to something curiously powerful that lodged in the imagination.

Do other parish clergy find it increasingly difficult to gain access to the homes of their parish, to carry out the domestic visiting so central to our ministry? I am grateful to Channel 5 for granting me an inside view of one of the addresses in our parish, which in recent years, because of greatly enhanced security concerns, I have found less and less inclined to let me in when I go calling.

Kensington Palace: Fit for a princess (Good Friday) was, as far as I can tell (they are somewhat coy on this point), a 2017 documentary, telling the undeniably dramatic and historically important story of the royal home, with a bolted-on appendix concerning Prince Harry’s fiancée. Ms Markle has, alas, chosen not to be baptised, confirmed, or married in her parish church (she can still change her mind) — but we saw in the background several nice shots of our magnificent spire.

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