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TV review: 8 Days: To the Moon and back, Too Gay For God?, and Charles I: Downfall of a King

19 July 2019

BBC Studios

Neil Armstrong (Rufus Wright) in 8 Days: To the Moon and back (BBC2, Wednesday of last week)

Neil Armstrong (Rufus Wright) in 8 Days: To the Moon and back (BBC2, Wednesday of last week)

AS A definition of “fatuous” it would be hard to beat Nikita Khruschev’s claim that, when Yuri Gagarin became the first man to enter space, he found there “no sign of God”. In contrast, the first human mission to the moon, whose 50th anniversary was magisterially celebrated in 8 Days: To the Moon and back (BBC2, Wednesday of last week), seemed imbued throughout with a sense of mystical, spiritual endeavour.

I had forgotten that the first lunar meal was the eucharist: consecrated bread and wine brought from his church by Buzz Aldrin. The TV commentary from the United States at the time, in stark contrast to what we might expect nowadays, was reverential and awestruck, undermined only by the edited-out commercial breaks beloved of our transatlantic cousins.

We saw never previously broadcast flight-deck recordings, newsreel, and reconstructions, emphasising the contrast between the still barely believable scientific and technological $19-billion complexity of the mission and the three laconic men at its heart, at critical moments taking the controls into their own hands.

As a metaphor for a spiritual journey, I was powerfully struck by the successive jettisonings of the huge rocket: stage after stage was discarded until, eventually, only the tiny capsule remained for the return to earth. Just like that progressive stripping away of inessentials that we find in all accounts of a soul’s progress, the immensity of space travel was revealed as also a personal pilgrimage.

Might outer space be, for the foreseeable future, the only place where C of E clergy could find that they are not Too Gay For God? (BBC1, Thursday of last week). The Revd Jide Macaulay shared his distress at being forbidden, if he wanted to remain a priest, from marrying his partner. He found incoherence in the Church’s avowed welcome of homosexuals while simultaneously refusing to allow same-sex marriage to its clergy. He is an active proselytiser in gay clubs and bars, where he seeks to persuade those estranged from faith that they are loved by God, yet finds that the reality of his own position undermines his preaching.

His story emerged: he had deep Pentecostal roots in Nigeria, where his father leads the second largest church; a marriage that fell apart when he acknowledged his homosexuality; forcible ejection from his church; and estrangement from his father, who publicly supports treating gays as criminals. Apparently, no bishop was prepared to be filmed supporting the Church’s rules: a clear message that our successive reports, discussions, and consultations are a smokescreen designed to maintain the ban.

In Charles I: Downfall of a King (BBC4, Tuesday to Thursday of last week), Lisa Hilton recounted the King’s catastrophic loss of control of Parliament and London, and the loss of power to John Pym’s Puritan faction in 1641-42. My initial enthusiasm waned: Miss Hilton waxed winsome while the anointed monarch sank into helpless dejection.

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