TV review: Sacred Wonders, All Woman, and Train Your Baby Like a Dog

30 August 2019

BBC Studios

The Holy Fire Ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, featured on Sacred Wonders

The Holy Fire Ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, featured on Sacred Wonders

THE sumptuous series Sacred Wonders (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) concluded with scenes of flame-wielding Orthodox Christians racing through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, on Holy Saturday, and Hindus in Bali making as much noise as possible to banish demonic spirits before retreating to their homes for a day of silence, to convince any remaining ones that the island had been abandoned.

The most powerful story of the whole series, however, was the last. A young Yazidi woman, Ivana, now living in Germany, returned to the heart of her faith in Lalish, in northern Iraq. Ivana was one of 6000 women kidnapped by IS in 2014, and spent nearly a year in captivity as a sex slave.

Yazidi teaching stipulates that even non-consensual sex with members outside the community is punishable by exclusion from the faith. But the rules have been relaxed for women such as Ivana, on condition that they return to Lalish for a blessing. There was a heartbreaking reunion between Ivana and her grandparents, and then we watched as she was lovingly tended to by women community elders who blessed her at a holy spring.

We hear so much about the ways in which religion inflicts sexual trauma on its adherents. Here was a sublime expression of its power to confront that trauma, and contribute to healing.

Kathy Burke has never wanted to be a mother. She has a good time with her friends’ children, goes home, and shuts the door. “I’m on my own, making myself laugh more than anyone else I’ve ever met in my life,” she says in the second part of her series All Woman (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week). And you can really picture it. But this warm, funny woman got lost among stale arguments about whether, when, and how women should have children.

The programme became interesting only with the unexpected and poignant revelation that was 18 months old Ms Burke when she lost her mother to cancer. I was left with the feeling that she was in the wrong programme. Producers of Who Do You Think You Are? might have probed beneath the surface to ask how this loss affected her feelings about having children. Instead, we were simply told: “I had a dog for a while, and that’s hard enough.”

Dog-rearing is the perfect preparation for parenthood, according to Train Your Baby Like a Dog (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week). The animal behaviourist Jo- Rosie Haffenden argued that dog-training techniques such as rewarding good behaviour could be adapted as a “radical and revolutionary” approach to dealing with tantrums or sleepless toddlers. The mere sight of her dog Tango was enough to lower my blood pressure, although he was little more than wallpaper in the end. But TV needs gimmicks, and this one worked as well as any.

Rosie Dawson is a freelance journalist who specialises in religion. Gillean Craig is away.

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