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TV review: The Grandchildren’s Vigil, Fake or Fortune?, and Gorbachev. Heaven: Storyville

23 September 2022


The Grandchildren’s Vigil (BBC1, Saturday) distilled the unity of mourners in Westminster Hall

The Grandchildren’s Vigil (BBC1, Saturday) distilled the unity of mourners in Westminster Hall

FRIENDS who queued for the late Queen’s lying-in-state said that the colours of the Royal Standard and catafalque were too bright for cameras to capture, while the brilliance created by the crown’s diamonds had to be witnessed to be believed. But, in a poignant 15 minutes, The Grandchildren’s Vigil (BBC1, Saturday) did distil the unity of mourners in Westminster Hall, held together in public grief.

Common purpose animated participants in Fake or Fortune? (BBC1, Tuesday of last week) as they attempted to attribute a painting, Christ Taken Down from the Cross, from the RC Church of St John the Baptist, Port Glasgow, to a 17th-century Flemish artist. The art historian Philip Mould pointed out that promotion to a known provenance increases the painting’s value dramatically. An added emotional layer of the investigation was its nomination by Marjorie Macdonald, the widow of an art-history lecturer, Ian, who had devoted years to establishing the work’s origin. Ian’s handwritten file of notes guided the episode.

Hopes were high that the church could be in possession of an altarpiece panel by Michiel Coxcie, an Antwerp painter spanning the High Renaissance to the Baroque, and known as the Flemish Raphael. Yet the aspirational narrative jarred with what was on screen. If this roughly modelled figure of Christ, with its stiff background tableau of St John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St Mary Magdalene, was the work of the Flemish Raphael, he was having an off day.

A gallop through the Northern Renaissance studio system, filmed at the studio, now a museum, of Peter Paul Rubens, revealed 1600s Antwerp as an art production line. Master painters directed assistants and apprentices, while journeymen moved from studio to studio daily, all toiling to satisfy the market for artwork. Under these factory conditions “circle of . . .” or “follower of . . .” is a safer bet than pinning a work to an individual artist.

Then, examination of Coxcie’s copy of the Ghent Altarpiece and dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) of the Port Glasgow panel delivered one more twist. Christ Taken Down from the Cross was not by Coxcie, but probably by his son, named Raphael, and worth about £60,000. “The Bishop will be pleased with that,” Mrs Macdonald said.

Legacy and the end of life dominated Gorbachev. Heaven: Storyville (BBC 4, Tuesday of last week), an intimate portrait of the man who dissolved the Soviet Union (Comment, 9 September). There was no need for plot twists and cliff-hangers; so time moved at a different pace as the filmmaker Vitaly Mansky followed Gorbachev as he walked with a Zimmer frame around his country house.

A raconteur, with a fondness for impromptu Ukrainian sing-songs, Gorbachev had no truck with whingeing. “You’re making your film. You’ll get paid,” was the response to complaints about lack of democracy. Photographs of Gorbachev’s late wife, Raisa, covered the walls, and their first kiss by a pond after driving through wheatfields was recalled in detail. We left him overcoming age and snow to visit her grave.

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