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TV review: Settling Down: A believer’s guide, Art That Made Us, and House of Maxwell

14 April 2022

BBC/Milk and Honey Productions

Jess and Grace in Settling Down: A believer’s guide (BBC1, Tuesdays from 29 March)

Jess and Grace in Settling Down: A believer’s guide (BBC1, Tuesdays from 29 March)

“I AM allowed to bless a bench in the churchyard, but forbidden to bless two committed Christians who love each other — if they’re the same sex.” So the Revd Ravi Holy expressed his frustration and despair, certainly speaking for me, for — I suspect — a simple majority of practising Anglicans, and surely for most of the bishops, if only they dared come off the fence and lead with their convictions.

Settling Down: A believer’s guide (Tuesdays from 29 March) is the closest that BBC1 is prepared to get to presenting a religious series for the holy season of Lent; but, as a sop to the UK’s Christians, it is pathetically meagre fare, as only one of its programmes, looking at life’s climactic moments, is about the faith of Jesus: others focus on Jews and Muslims.

Generally, I couldn’t be happier to celebrate such multifaith attention, but does Passiontide feature in their calendars? Shown at 10.35 p.m., when the godly are well abed, the nugatory viewing figures will confirm the executives’ prejudice that this is a sector that they can ignore.

Grace and Jess face two great changes: moving out to set up their first home (on a barge, as it happens) and preparing for their wedding. Much of this was pretty uncompelling, but, gradually, the theme emerged: the challenge their homosexuality presented to their faith.

Devout Baptists, their lifelong church could offer — lovingly, of course — only conversion therapy. Eventually, they found a welcoming, informal house church. They’ve abandoned having the church wedding that they long for, but, moving to London, where could they worship? “Inclusive” churches aren’t good enough: they’ve been let down by them before; they sought active affirmation of who and what they knew themselves to be as Christians. After enough disappointments to make them consider abandoning their faith altogether, they finally found a warm welcome at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. They didn’t even try the Church of England.

The first two episodes of BBC2’s Art That Made Us (Thursdays from 7 April and on iPlayer) take our Christian heritage seriously. Telling our island story through a series of key works of art, each is presented by experts; and then contemporary artists comment in relation to their own work. “Art” here includes literature; so we get, splendidly: Beowulf, The Lindisfarne Gospels, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe. One guiding theme is that art is essentially subversive, revolutionary —which becomes somewhat wearisome when allied to so uneven a presentation. But it celebrates human inspiration and genius.

In House of Maxwell (BBC2, Mondays from 4 April), we saw Ghislaine’s father, Robert, overbearing tyrant and charismatic bully, effectively groom her to seek, after his still unexplained death, someone in the same mould. Jeffrey Epstein fitted the bill exactly. Their lives wrecked, his sex victims give testimonies that sear and sicken.

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