*** DEBUG END ***

TV review: Sacred Wonders and I am Hannah

16 August 2019


The temple of Angkor Wat, featured in Sacred Wonders (BBC1, Wednesdays)

The temple of Angkor Wat, featured in Sacred Wonders (BBC1, Wednesdays)

IT WAS just like every churchwarden following every archdeacon’s advice and immediately rooting out any greenery taking hold of your ancient stonework. But this was no parish church: rather, the highest pinnacle of Angkor Wat’s Buddhist temple, hundreds of feet above the jungle.

The presentation of the world’s great religious buildings and practices, in the new series Sacred Wonders (BBC1, Wednesdays), demonstrates that, whatever the creed or sect, the purely practical business of upkeep and organising liturgy is surprisingly common.

No archdeacon, though, would countenance the reckless disregard of health and safety. In Cambodia, they clamber up unsecured near-vertical ladders, and, for the final 20 feet, climb, barefoot, a slender tree trunk hauled up for the purpose. Less dangerous but more reliably agonising was the Christian offering: the 264 bearers who lacerate their shoulders as they carry, all night long, the enormous golden throne of the Virgen de la Esperanza through the streets of Seville every year. For the bearers, this is a great honour: an acted-out penance and expiation of sins.

There was more physical agony as we watched one of the 100 Buddhist warrior monks of Shaolin’s ancient temple taking his ordination exam. Had he mastered the years of disciplined kung-fu? I found Divinity Tripos bad enough, but at least we did not have to sit a practical paper.

In the extraordinary Hindu temple at Neasden, devotees prepared the 1400 platters of food offered to the gods at the festival of Annakut, then distributed it to the thousands of worshippers. In Jerusalem, despite their 14-hour fast from food and drink during Ramadan, volunteer Muslim paramedics struggle to bring first aid and ambulance services to the people crowding into the Al-Aqsa mosque.

I salute any TV that seeks to demonstrate the universal vitality of religious practice. But why must the narration be so over-emphatic? Why can’t we hear the ancient music of the religious traditions depicted rather than being assaulted by the usual sub-Hollywood mush? And it is hard to take seriously any religious documentary that is unable to differentiate between Maundy Thursday and Easter Thursday — the distinction does, after all, comprise Christianity’s central narrative and belief.

I Am Hannah (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) had a familiar plot, but was exceptional in every other aspect: simple, powerful, and affecting. Hannah has everything — job, nice flat, financial independence, great looks — but, while her friends marry and have children, she cannot find a partner.

Perhaps she could freeze some of her eggs as insurance? There is a shock, however: the tests reveal that she has very low fertility, and it is probably already too late. So she uses an old flame to try to get pregnant. It is as calculating and love-free as the way in which the men used her. Why, we were challenged, is this so much more disturbing in a woman?

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)