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TV review: Coronavirus: A Horizon Special — What we know now, and Bloodlands

05 March 2021

BBC/Alastair Duncan

Dr Chris van Tulleken, who presented Coronavirus: A Horizon Special — What we know now (BBC2, Thursday of last week)

Dr Chris van Tulleken, who presented Coronavirus: A Horizon Special — What we know now (BBC2, Thursday of last week)

CAN we dare to seek God in this pandemic? Perhaps, like me, you have been appalled by statements that come perilously close to suggesting that the Almighty sent this plague to give the Church of England a jolt severe enough to force us to face up to our financial situation, or rethink the parochial system.

To avoid the blasphemies of imagining the ever-loving and omnipotent vindictive enough to condemn millions to agonising death so that little self-important us can straighten out our affairs, it is vital to start with the facts of the matter, and Coronavirus: A Horizon Special — What we know now (BBC2, Thursday of last week) was an excellent starting point.

I liked its presentation as a work in progress, reporting on how much we have learned in a year, and what lies in the future; it felt dynamic and open-ended. It made every effort to help dullards like me understand the science of genetics, pathogens, and vaccines. One inescapable truth is that its constituent elements have astonish­­ing freedom and ability to propagate and transform, exploiting every potential niche to ensure their flourishing.

Covid-19 developed in one unfortunate patient no fewer than 37 new variations; the work of identifying them and seeking counter-strategies sounded like a military campaign: where and how will the enemy strike next? God was also to be glimpsed, surely, in the deter­mination we saw of doctors and scientists to save the lives of others, to defeat the scourge, and in his creative partnership with humankind, enduing us with the intellectual potential to discover his mysteries of genetic engineering, the speed with which effective vaccines have been invented, tested, manufactured; and whose constant refinement to repel new mutations keeps researchers working round the clock.

The most baleful outworkings of Christian religion are plain for all to see in Bloodlands, BBC1’s current Sunday-evening crime thriller; for this is Northern Ireland, and hatreds and suspicions between Roman Catholics and Protestants still simmer, ready to burst into deadly flame. A series of murders were hushed up lest they jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement, just then approaching ratification.

Twenty years later, the case has resurfaced, proving that ancient enmities have lost nothing of their destructive power. Should it be pursued, potentially destroying painstakingly achieved peace and harmony, or once again quietly smothered? Episode two (Sunday) ended with a plot twist as unexpected and shocking as any I remember. The drama employs too many clichés for my taste, but I must keep watching to find out how the destruction of all the sympathies that they have carefully built up is justified.

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