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TV review: Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen, We Are Black and British, and Killing Eve

11 March 2022

BBC Studios

In Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen (BBC2, Thursday of last week), the actor reflected on his sexuality and Christian upbringing

In Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen (BBC2, Thursday of last week), the actor reflected on his sexuality and Christian upbringing

LAST week, we saw two illuminating — perhaps surprising — airings of the topic of Christianity and homosexuality. In Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen (BBC2, Thursday), Amol Rajan seemed more interested in the great man’s gay history than distilled wisdom on how to be so mesmeric an actor. Sir Ian’s parents were committed Christians, and he spent many hours in church as a boy. Never, he said, had he heard anything from sermons or other teaching suggesting that homosexuality was sinful.

He is convinced that church leaders did not learn their condemnation from scripture; rather, they searched the scriptures to find texts that would justify their already ingrained prejudice. Why didn’t we ask him to create Living in Love and Faith?

We Are Black and British (BBC2, 23 and 24 February) was far more urgent and gritty. Six young people were put up for a week in a luxury Cotswold manor house to talk about their racial experience of life in our country today. All highly articulate and forthcoming, they were chosen for their diversity, and each had to make a personal presentation, ending with a challenging question.

Most focused on how a privileged white society still discriminates against and marginalises people of colour; but the gay rapper Mista Strange produced an internal issue: when he came out, he was attacked more bitterly by his own people than he had ever been because of the colour of his skin.

Dare they confront the thoroughgoing homophobia of the black community? It was like a grenade dropped into the group: primed to identify enemies outside, the unjust other, they found it hard to face their own lack of solidarity. The most secular of them sought refuge in religion: did not the holy books explicitly condemn homosexuality? The two practising Christians insisted that their faith was compatible with welcoming gay people and being gay, offering sketchy but admirable scriptural exegesis on how Jesus’s command to love overrides condemnation.

This was powerful TV, demonstrating the vast diversity of what is often lazily lumped together and treated (often by itself) as a unified, homogeneous entity. They quarrelled and argued bitterly, but, by the time of their departure, had learned from and accepted one another, welded by painful honesty into a strong group: exactly what we hope for from the parish awayday, but territory far too threatening for most of us to dare enter.

Christianity (well, sort of) provided astringent colour for the first episode of the final series of Killing Eve (BBC1, Saturday). The psychopathic assassin has determined to transform her life; she now lives in a London vicarage, performing saintly works of charity. Surely baptism will do the trick? The vicar, understandably, hesitates to administer the sacrament; so Villanelle simply baptises herself. It’s all inconsequential nonsense: hugely stylish and stylised, the characters performing a glorious, nonsensical puppet show for our delight and mystification.

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