*** DEBUG END ***

TV review: Shakespeare: Rise of a genius, State Opening of Parliament, and Stacey Dooley: Inside the undertakers

17 November 2023

BBC/72 Films/Tomi Gacas

The Bard is played by Daniel Boyarsky in Shakespeare: Rise of a genius (BBC2, Wednesday of last week)

The Bard is played by Daniel Boyarsky in Shakespeare: Rise of a genius (BBC2, Wednesday of last week)

IF THE English are still People of the Book, then, in terms of international influence, that volume is probably no longer the Bible, but Shakespeare’s First Folio: the unique source of many of his best-loved plays, which inspire and speak directly to every culture in the world.

BBC2 is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its publication with the three-part series Shakespeare: Rise of a genius, which began last week (Wednesday). This programme was a lavish affair, with dramatic reconstructions of life in Tudor/Stuart England; a stunning array of leading thespians, jostling with academics and scholars to share their insights; and a range of clips from famous stage, cinema, and TV productions.

It claimed that we knew very little of the man’s biography, that he was poorly educated, and that the plays provided immediate keys to his life story and responses to the political and social upheavals of the day. Surely, all these assumptions were highly questionable. They cooked up an indigestible banquet of speculation and must-have-feltery, which mostly imposed the emotional reactions of our own times on a world quite different from ours.

The view that the programme took of the creative artist was Romantic and Freudian, ignoring the much older reality of the journeyman creator whose work could have a quite startling (to us) separation from the tragedies of his immediate personal life. It contained some really good things, but they needed to be sifted out from plenty of 21st-century guff.

The realities of power and authority are rightly celebrated as among Shakespeare’s vital themes: he would have recognised many of the gorgeous accoutrements displayed in the coverage of the The State Opening Of Parliament (BBC1, Tuesday of last week). It followed the currently established pattern of a presenter’s commenting on the unfolding event while discussing its details and implications with a group of experts. In the classic televising of state occasions, the commentator was an expert, and other voices were quite superfluous. Today’s mantle fell on Nicky Campbell, who took this process of democratisation rather too far.

The BBC is desperate to prove its descent from Olympian heights: now, we’re all just ordinary people, and no one claims to know more than anyone else. Yet, better explication is needed for our extraordinary system: ultimate authority held by a hereditary monarch, supported by medieval splendours of pomp and circumstance, reading a formal speech whose legislative programme will, the moment the pageantry ends, be scrapped over in a bear-pit of elected politicians who wield the decision-making power.

In Stacey Dooley: Inside the undertakers (BBC1, Thursday of last week), the presenter experienced (briefly) the actualities of funerals, corpses, and embalming. The most impressive sequence concerned the obsequies of Afro-Caribbean Christians, singing joyful hymns as they all filled in the grave.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)