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TV review: Tonight: Homes for Ukraine: Welcome to Britain? and Rebuilding Notre-Dame: The next chapter

06 May 2022


Tonight: Homes for Ukraine: Welcome to Britain? (ITV, last Friday) related to a government scheme widely criticised for not delivering visas

Tonight: Homes for Ukraine: Welcome to Britain? (ITV, last Friday) related to a government scheme widely criticised for not delivering visas

“LIKE all good communities, the heart here is the pub.” Tonight: Homes for Ukraine: Welcome to Britain? (ITV, last Friday) celebrated the magnificent eagerness of tiny Aberfeldy, in Perthshire, to house refugees from the war; but my quotation signifies a glaring gap in the reporting.

Time and again, the interviews from those wanting to open their homes clearly identified them — by their bookshelves, pictures, ornaments — as committed Christians, or people of faith; yet all suggestion that churches and religion generally are a crucial spur to desiring to house the stranger was resolutely avoided. Far safer, far more comfortable, far more consonant with contemporary media conventions to stick with the pub than have to admit that, even today, a vital community centre for millions of British people is their place of worship.

This was curiously soft-centred reportage: I expected something more excoriating — an exposé of the glaring gaps between the Government’s stated desire to welcome refugees, the overwhelming response from the public (200,000-plus signed up), and the disgraceful reality.

The sharpest clip was from the schoolteacher who gave up his Easter holiday to work in Poland, helping Ukrainians to apply for places in Britain. Every other European country offered immediate, generous entry; the UK’s unique visa requirement, taking weeks to process, filled him with shame. The Government proudly trumpeted its granting of 70,000 such visas; the programme ignored the frequent reports that such visas regularly omit a child or aged dependant, rendering them completely useless for desperate families.

Anyone trying to raise the funds necessary to repair the church roof could gape in amazement at Rebuilding Notre-Dame: The next chapter (BBC2, Thursday of last week). Lucy Worsley presented a remarkable progress report, stunningly illustrated. The structure has now been declared sound, and work is proceeding at every level. The vast scaffolding supporting the interior articulates and reveals the sheer volume of its space, the audacity of its design.

It is a fascinating collaboration of the latest and most sophisticated scientific analysis with respect for the techniques of the original medieval builders, some of whose masterstrokes are only now apparent: they have decided to replace exactly what was there before in the same materials, ensuring that the building breathes and moves as originally constructed.

As always, “original” is a debatable concept. Being able to examine everything more closely than ever before reveals how significant and intrusive Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century “improvements” were; do they reproduce them, or return to the medieval designs?

It was a splendid and moving programme, ignoring only one minor aspect of Notre-Dame’s universal importance. Observing the media convention described above, viewers were saved all embarrassment, as no mention whatsoever was made of either God or worship.

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