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TV review: Ramadan in Lockdown, Grayson’s Art Club, What’s the Matter with Tony Slattery?, Climbing Blind, and Sink or Swim

29 May 2020

channel 4

A scene from Ramadan in Lockdown, a series of four video diaries broadcast on Channel 4 last week

A scene from Ramadan in Lockdown, a series of four video diaries broadcast on Channel 4 last week

WE ARE all too aware of the distress of those who cannot join together in public worship: the faithful and those privileged to lead them in the ways of God. We are probably less aware, though, of the ways in which it affects our Muslim neigh­bours.

Last week, Channel 4 repaired that ignorance with Ramadan in Lock­down: four 15-minute films com­­­­piled from video diaries kept by a range of adherents up and down the country. While they repre­sented the articulate, media-comfortable sec­­­tion of their faith, this was still an impressive snapshot of people for whom religion is central to their lives, and who can find, in the rigor­ous discipline of their fast, pride, celebration, and solidarity — deep­ening their relationship with God, and their care for neighbours.

Besides donating more than £100 million to charities in this holy month, UK Muslims provide exten­s­ive practical charity, such as bringing food to the self-isolating and desti­tute. Why cannot TV com­ple­ment this portrait of British faith in action with a similar series depicting our Christian keep­ing of Lent? Might it be because so few of us actually do keep it with anything approaching this whole­hearted en­­thus­iasm?

In Grayson’s Art Club (Monday of last week), Channel 4 did celeb­rate (although not so rec­og­nising it) a central religious med­itative prac­tice: intense looking. Grayson Perry challenged us to depict the view from our window, then discussed some of the works sent to him by mobile phone with their creators. His cheerful, positive encourage­ment — helped by the visiting artist Jim Moir, aka Vic Reeves — un­­locked delightful, creativity. His artist’s eye lighted on some marvel­lous works: perhaps the most mov­ing was a powerful drawing from a woman who, in the video interview, turned out to be, to all intents and purposes, blind. It is a probing challenge worth pondering: how do the eye, imagination, and hand relate?

BBC2 asked What’s the Matter with Tony Slattery? (Thursday of last week). Thirty years ago, at the height of his TV fame, the comic im­­proviser Tony Slattery vanished from public view. Decades of para­noia, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse followed; now, he is willing to explore which of these demons is cause and which is effect.

TV cameras recorded meetings with therapists, doctors, and special­ists, and chronicled the love and care of his partner, Mark. Eventually, he disclosed on camera an appalling child­­­­hood trauma: aged eight, he had been anally raped by a Roman Catholic priest. We saw no resulting miracle cure, but, perhaps, the first steps to slow painful recovery.

Wednesday of last week provided two aspects of the Scots’ fascination with stone: in Climbing Blind (Chan­­­­nel 4), a blind climber as­­cended the Old Man Of Hoy; Sink or Skim (BBC1) showed feats of skip­ping stones across water: the current record is 121.8 metres.

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