TV review: The Name of the Rose, Eugenics: Science's greatest scandal, and Hindus: Do we have a caster problem?

18 October 2019

BBC/Palomar/11 Marzo Film

From left: Malachi (Richard Sammel), William of Basquerville (John Turturro), and Berengar (Maurizio Lombardi) in The Name of the Rose (BBC2, Fridays)

From left: Malachi (Richard Sammel), William of Basquerville (John Turturro), and Berengar (Maurizio Lombardi) in The Name of the Rose (BBC2, Fridays)

AS A recruiting tool for the monastic life, I doubt that The Name of the Rose (BBC2, Fridays) will achieve much success. Unlucky in its close proximity to the Monty Python 50th anniversary, too many scenes, as medieval peasants and religious seek to outdo each other in squalid poverty, channel Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The new series is a spectacular co-production of Umberto Eco’s bestseller, its visual splendour failing at, oddly enough, the depiction of the great abbey that is both the setting and (eventually) a player in the thriller: an unhappy alliance of CGI and polystyrene.

Originally, the novel broke new ground, as a serious academic brought to popular readership poly­mathic reference to areas of scholar­ship unfamiliar to most people: medieval papal politics, disputations about subjects proper to manuscript illumination, and the struggle between Franciscan poverty and wealthy church structures.

The overwhelming improbabil­ities of the plot undermine the in­­tended exploration of such virtues as mercy and grace, scholarship and justice. As nights-drawing-in enter­tain­­ment, however, it works per­fectly well.

Eugenics: Science’s greatest scandal (BBC4, Thursday of last week) addressed profound moral issues. It showed that the concept by no means ended with the Second World War, and enquired whether a similar theory drove genetic engin­eering. People with severe physical syndromes delivered a challenge: were their lives worth living? Should they have normal rights of reproduction? Genetic screening results in the termination of 90 per cent of Down’s syndrome foetuses: does that question the inherent value of those who do live with this condition?

It ended positively: science is not remotely close to being able to “design” babies. Research demon­strates that nurture trumps nature; supposed cultural, class, or racial characteristics barely register.
A huge international study examines the development of children pre-birth, at birth, and at one and two years old. Whatever their background, they show no statistically significant variation in all the key markers of child development: the significant factor is whether the mother enjoys, first, secure good health; and, second, a reasonable standard of living. So, the struggle is to achieve the uni­versal well-being of mothers rather than weed out supposed undesirables.

Hindus: Do we have a caste problem? (BBC1, Sunday) put under the spotlight one system of inherited human classification. Does it have any traction in the UK today? A depressing non-surprise: high-caste contributors think that it hardly matters; low-caste contributors know that it has a huge negative im­­pact on their employment prospects and social acceptability — even religious welcome.

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