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TV review: Inside No. 9, Inside Culture with Shahidha Bari, and Peter Taylor: Ireland after Partition

02 July 2021

Sophie Mutevelian

In Inside No. 9 (BBC2, 14 June), a dysfunctional family gathers to watch the Last Night of The Proms

In Inside No. 9 (BBC2, 14 June), a dysfunctional family gathers to watch the Last Night of The Proms

DID you see Jesus on TV a couple of weeks ago? The series Inside No. 9 has always been the most genre-defying of horror comedies, a pro­­digal treasure-chest of cultural ref­­erences and subtle parodies; but the final episode on 14 June (BBC2) covered more ground — emotional, political, sexual (always a key ele­­ment) — than any I remember, add­­ing this time a surprisingly moving religious element.

A dysfunctional family gathers once more to watch the Last Night of the Proms, the feast of patriotism blaring from the tele­­vision providing both catalyst and commentary as sibling rivalry and long-simmering hatreds emerge. But an uninvited stranger appears: bearded, foreign, his hands wounded. He stirs up fear, pity, ho­­moerotic lust — and, in sister Penny, faith.

Surely, he is one of those un­­wanted and probably murderous asylum-seekers; but, as the crowds sing “Jerusalem”, for a moment they all wonder: could this possibly be the “holy Lamb of God”? The possibility is too unbearable; ten­­sion mounts until he is savagely murdered, Penny cradling his body — a suburban pietà.

In horrified silence, they clear every­­­thing away, wrapping the corpse in a Union flag, and bund­ling it into the car for disposal. Every­body agrees, as they wipe his blood, symbolically, from the TV screen, on a rational explanation for every­thing; but there was a coda for Penny, mourning in the con­­servatory — a Mary Magdalene mo­­ment of resurrection. This was extra­ordinarily bold TV, daring to enter territory that everyone else shies away from.

Risk-taking lay at the heart of all the contributions to Inside Culture with Shahidha Bari (BBC2, Friday). Tracey Emin is always worth hear­­ing, her recent openness about her bladder cancer and its treatment just the latest in a lifetime of shredding the veils of conventional propriety. These revelations of her personal life are far too uncomfortable for many — but for many more, deeply liber­ating. At last, feelings and expe­­rience that society tells them should be kept hidden are given public, creative utter­ance.

All the featured artists insist that the most important thing is full self-expression. But such a claim raises big questions: obviously, we must pro­­claim that which is true to our personal experience, but does not too much self obscure the uni­­vers­al­ity of the message, reducing it to a mere ego trip? Discuss.

In Peter Taylor: Ireland after Partition (BBC2, 14 June), the reporter reviewed nearly 50 years of his own filming of hatred, violence, fear, and suffering — and also recon­ciliation and hope. His conclusion was bleak: the negative forces still simmer beneath the surface, ready to erupt.

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