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TV review: The Anti-Vax Conspiracy, The Turn of the Screw, The Road to Partition, and The Scottish Island That Won the Lottery

11 June 2021


The Anti-Vax Conspiracy (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) explored the anti-vaccination movement

The Anti-Vax Conspiracy (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) explored the anti-vaccination movement

“MARTYRDOM” reinforces the cult members’ adulation of their leader, confirming their faith that he is their messiah. Religious concepts permeated The Anti-Vax Conspiracy (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week), a dreadful programme on two levels. First, its distressing portrayal of the unplumbable depths of human cupidity and cynical manipulation showed that there is nothing some people, however compelling the evidence to the contrary, will not absolutely believe; and endless charlatans delight to exploit that syndrome.

Second, as a documentary, it was a car-crash: purporting to explore the opposition to the anti-Covid-19 vaccination, it focused far more on the continuing growth of Andrew Wakefield’s empire. His thesis that the triple MMR vaccine can cause some children to develop autism was, in the end, decisively trounced in the UK, and he was struck off by the medical register.

But he had already set up in the United States; here, his alarms resonate with vast numbers who distrust any manifestation of legitimate authority and long for maverick, charismatic leaders at odds with professional expertise — eager to support the movement with shedloads of hard cash. Social media provide the perfect platform for the dissemination of anecdotal “evidence”, unfounded hunches, and emotion trumping hard-won data; the most vulnerable being most exploited. These people have blood on their hands.

A would-be saviour who decisively fails animates The Turn of the Screw, Britten’s opera based on Henry James’s ghost story, realised in a remarkable made-for-video production by OperaGlass Works (BBC4, Sunday). The new governess is confident that she will fulfil her distant employer’s instructions to care for his wards. But are they innocent children or sources of psychic evil? Are the apparitions of the previous governess and her abusive lover “real”, or summoned by repressed desire?

In this radically deconstructed performance, the decayed setting of Wilton’s Music Hall, in east London, played a central part as we progressed to tragedy and death.

The Road to Partition (BBC2, Thursday 27 May and 3 June) was serious TV. The English typically ignore and forget the bloody story of Ireland’s recent history and its continuing significance: here, we saw the sheer complexity of the conflicts, far beyond a simplistic Roman Catholic/Protestant division. Religion, politics, abuse of power, economics, thuggish brutality, simmering resentment — all these played their part, and the drama is by no means fully resolved.

For a far happier view of human nature, see The Scottish Island That Won the Lottery (Channel 4, Saturday). On North Uist, 101 inhabitants won between them £3 million. Unimagined riches seem not yet to have turned heads: Duncan, for example, bought a new wheelbarrow. Here, natural beauty and community challenge assumptions about where true wealth really lies.

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