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TV review: A Scottish Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication, Exploring India’s Treasures with Bettany Hughes, and Ellie Symonds: Finding my secret family

14 July 2023


The King is presented with the Sceptre in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, during A Scottish Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication (BBC1, Wednesday of last week)

The King is presented with the Sceptre in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, during A Scottish Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication (BBC1, Wednesday of...

SOME are more equal than others. I couldn’t be keener on inclusivity and ecumenical embrace, but the welcome to His Majesty offered by the humanist hailing “the spirit of equality” in the house of a God in whom he did not believe, and addressing a monarch to whom he professed no fealty, may perhaps have pushed the envelope a bit too far.

After all, the whole point of presenting sword, sceptre, and crown — the Honours of Scotland — to the King in A Scottish Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication, (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) is that they are offered to one person, not just any and every one: the monstrous accident of birth and God’s scandalous partiality should surely be acknowledged before a prince chosen by right of male primogeniture alone.

The televising prompted knotty considerations. How powerfully Auld Reekie’s constrained, ancient Royal Mile contrasted with the Mall’s ceremonial boulevard in London; how effective it was in concentrating and focusing the splendour of pipes and drums and guardsmen; and how depressing its amplification of the republicans’ raucous yells of disapproval was.

The High Kirk is a splendid church, but of particular interest to us is its radical reordering. Its central holy table, with the congregation facing from every compass point, offered this particular liturgy an admirable liberty of organisation, a fascinating marriage of ancient tradition and contemporary innovation.

Inclusivity and multifaith embrace and energise Exploring India’s Treasures with Bettany Hughes (Channel 4, Sunday). Not just offering the subcontinent’s unrivalled art and architecture in their own terms, she seeks to explore how its range of religions and philosophies animated these extraordinary artefacts. She knows what she is talking about; but the bite-size format precludes anything more than a cursory glance at such profundities. Her enthusiasm delights in the openness and compassion of the beliefs that she encounters, but might the second programme admit to the equal contemporary truth of violent, politically fomented, sectarian intolerance?

Ellie Simmonds: Finding my secret family (ITV1, Thursday of last week) explored another accident of birth, the opposite of privilege. The Paralympian swimmer had always known that she was adopted; now, at 27, she felt ready to seek out her birth mother, who had given her up at two weeks old, unable (as the evidence revealed) to face bringing up a child with dwarfism.

This was a moving journey of self-discovery: slowly, Ms Simmonds realised the gravity of her quest, and its potential effect on all concerned. The finding and meeting were successful; but Ms Simmonds kept her mother’s identity secret to avoid the inevitable social-media trolling that would otherwise ensue.

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