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TV review: Pilgrimage, and The Darkest Days: Israel-Gaza six months on

12 April 2024


The participants in the latest series of Pilgrimage (BBC2, Fridays)

The participants in the latest series of Pilgrimage (BBC2, Fridays)

“I THOUGHT Jesus Christ was fictitious.” This admission by a participant in BBC2’s 2024 iteration of Pilgrimage (Fridays) — a group of celebrities undertaking a journey in which they explore and confront their faith, or lack of it, and, nowadays, the BBC’s flagship broadcast marking Holy Week and Easter — instantly confirmed all our fears about the appalling lack of religious education in our state schools today — except that it was uttered by the only Old Etonian among them, no doubt to the despair of that church-based college’s excellent team of chaplains and its admirable regime of daily chapel worship.

Despite this egregious lapse, and all the other usual astonishing revelations of sheer ignorance about religion in general and Christianity in particular, this was in fact the best version of the franchise we’ve seen for some years.

The three programmes, starting from Good Friday, showed the diverse group from all manner of faith backgrounds — nearly all lapsed — and none gelling immediately as they walked the North Wales pilgrim route towards Bardsey Island and were curious, supportive and open about their motivations and hopes: “I’d love to find God on this path.” My annual gripe is that there was no alert priest/theologian on hand to point out that the genuine process is the other way round — to allow God to find you.

Other professional complaints include the constant reference to Celtic saints and Christianity: surely the notion of them as tree-hugging alternative proto-rewilders and wind-chime aficionados has long been exploded? But the pilgrims clearly made journeys into far deeper self-knowledge and healing, even if their new-found position was far more a generic God-free “spirituality” still reluctant to accept the rigours and liberations of true religious tradition. The climax was paradoxically moving: even today, the sea crossing to Bardsey is so treacherous that it can be attempted only in propitious conditions, and the weather forbade their getting any closer than gazing at the holy island from the mainland cliffs. Yet they found this positive: proof that their journey was not concluded but would go on and on.

Far more rigorous prayer and lived faith animated the second part of Sunday’s almost unwatchable but necessary The Darkest Days: Israel-Gaza six months on (BBC2, Sunday). Lyse Doucet presented two films by local crews. The first, by an Israeli, stitched together personal smartphone footage of the Hamas terrorists overrunning, murdering, and kidnapping those attending the Nova Music Festival, with later testimony by the still-traumatised survivors.

The second, by a Palestinian embedded in a Red Crescent volunteer ambulance unit, stopped to pray amid their tears as they gathered yet more disfigured and dismembered corpses of babies, children, and women, victims of Israeli assault.

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